Editor's note: University of Kentucky senior basketball player Darius Miller recently visited with some of the patients at UK Children's Hospital. Among the patients was Thomas Mims, who wrote the following story, "My Time with the Champ." It first appeared last week on sports columnist John Clay's Sidelines blog on Kentucky.com
Let's run through some numbers: The odds of a child being born with cystic fibrosis in the United States are 1 in 2,000. The odds of a child being born in Kentucky, winning a state championship, Mr. Basketball, and a national championship in a University of Kentucky jersey are astronomically higher, seeing as it has happened only once. So it was rather incredible that their paths crossed.
Not only did this happen, but the circumstances are remarkable. As a high school senior, a month away from graduation, and only a few months from perhaps attending the same school (or Xavier, I'm still undecided) as Darius Miller, I have spent the past two years of my life broadcasting high school sports for Prepspin.com, and following sports in the Bluegrass closer than just about anyone. I have to. How else will I know what to talk about on air? My sophomore year, I saw Jarrod Polson lead the West Jessamine Colts to a Sweet Sixteen and make an incredible shot during a district tournament in which he went up for a right-handed floater, only to have the shot challenged. In one motion, he switched to his non-dominant left hand and put it in that way instead.
The memories surged back. Just two years before that, before I even knew I wanted to pursue sports media as a career, I had seen another future Wildcat hit a similar shot. The player of course, was Mason County superstar senior Darius Miller. In a game against Lexington Catholic, Miller made the spectacular look easy. This began my love for Darius Miller the basketball player.
Today, I met Darius Miller the human being. I'm still not sure which amazes me more. After observing Darius for four years in the blue and white, there was nobody I was happier for when the confetti began falling from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome rafters than the SEC Sixth Man of the Year. He has won more games in Rupp Arena than any player before, has given his heart and soul to the state of Kentucky and its most acclaimed institution, and finally had the pleasure of delivering the University of Kentucky banner number eight. But none of this came to mind when his 6-foot-7 frame came through my door. Suddenly, Room 492 was the place to be in all of the hospital.
I have met many Kentucky icons in my hospitalizations with cystic fibrosis. In December, I met Steve Beshear and his kind wife, who presented me with a Nerf basketball hoop (If you're reading this Mr. and Mrs. Beshear, yes, I still play with it.). Shortly after Valentine's Day, I met Lexington Catholic Knight turned Minnesota Twins outfielder Ben Revere, one of the most friendly, enthusiastic people I have ever met. But this meeting was different. Darius Miller has the confidence and demeanor of a star athlete just as Ben Revere does. However, added to this is the fact that having just won a national championship, his standing and popularity in the state of Kentucky are on par with that of the governor. In fact, don't be surprised if after his NBA days are over, he runs for office. He has certainly exhibited the leadership for it.
"How are you doing, man?" asks my esteemed guest. I answer the only way I know how. "I'm great, Darius." I'm not sure how I managed to find those words, but I suppose this (slight) confidence comes from experience in meeting former Giants quarterback Phil Simms, Revere, Coach Cal and many other major Kentucky sports personalities in my young career. It's quite funny because I talk to Darius on a weekly basis through my television. I have encouraged him, and now he is standing before me, reversing who fills the role of supporter.
He turns to my grandparents, who have picked the absolute perfect time to visit and asks, "How are y'all doing?" My grandparents mimic my actions, barely able to muster anything. In this case, the cat that's got our tongues is a Wildcat. The next question throws me off entirely. "You watching ESPN?" This isn't a necessary question of course, as Darius knows that it is in fact ESPN. Why wouldn't he? He's appeared on there many times and even made a few SportsCenter Top Plays. I confirm that, yes, I am watching ESPN (it's literally the only thing I watch in the hospital.).
Darius warmly asks if I want him to sign this small UK ball for him and naturally my response is in the affirmative. I almost tell him he's welcome to sign everything in the room. Please, Mr. Miller. Sign whatever you like. Stay as long as you like. My room is your room. My state, your state. My favorite team, your favorite team. I then ask if he will sign my two UK national championship Sports Illustrated magazines and my UK basketball yearbook. I know the answer before I ask. "Yeah, of course."
All of this has amazed and captivated me, but the warmest, happiest moment of the whole visit comes from my grandfather. He sits in the corner by the window, Kentucky sunshine filtering through, and then he says what I couldn't find the courage to. "Thanks for all four years, Darius. You and (Doron) Lamb were really knocking them in, eh buddy?"
Darius chuckles his humble laugh. "Yes sir, yes sir."
Finally, the time comes for Darius to go. My grandfather and I both wish him well and tell him how much we appreciate everything. My grandmother is still starstruck by her adopted grandson. As Darius turns to go, I say, "Thanks for everything, Darius!" There's a hint of, "I love you," in there. After all, Darius represents Kentucky fans across the state. We were there for his rough freshman year. Then we shared the memories of his past three seasons being surrounded by incredible freshman talent. All the while being the constant face in a continuously changing team. Just as we have been there, so has Darius. He's part of us. He's my brother at this point. I feel as if I've known him my whole life. My grandparents (and other Kentucky fans) have watched him grow up before our eyes. He's part of the family. And that means much more than any statistics or any achievements he's had on the court.
After all, he and I are anomalies. Cystic fibrosis is fairly rare. Players that mean as much to their fan base as Darius has are even rarer. Maybe one day we'll meet again, perhaps when I'm actually working in the world of sports. He'll still be the basketball player, and at heart I'll still be a fan. More than that though, he'll still be the greatest proof I have that, yes, good things do happen to good people.