UK Men's Basketball

Miller's growing pains nothing new

Darius Miller shows his unhappiness. Television catches him on the bench being counseled by Kentucky coaches. The Internet spreads rumors of Miller leaving the UK team.

Except for the Internet, this is an old non-story. Miller isn't the first UK freshman to struggle.

Going from high school star to small man on campus is difficult for almost every freshman. Miller isn't even the first UK freshman to struggle (See Liggins, DeAndre: refusal to re-enter game).

"He's doing fine," Miller's father, Brian, said later in the week. "He's just a little frustrated. That's all."

Former UK players understood.

"In a lot of situations, there's not enough minutes or basketballs to go around," said Richie Farmer, who reached legendary status as a high school player, including the title of Mr. Basketball. He averaged 9.0 minutes and 3.1 points as a UK freshman.

A check of the statistics shows that Miller is doing quite well. His average of 20.0 minutes compares favorably with the freshman output of some of Kentucky's most noted players (see list). His 4.1-point scoring average is better than what Jeff Sheppard posted as a first-year player (3.7 ppg).

"It's all worthwhile what freshmen have to go through," Sheppard said. "It's just hard to see that when you're going through it."

You leave home, many times for the first time. You attend college-level classes. You play in front of 24,000 instead of 2,000. "Kind of a blur," said Sheppard, who suggested that the struggles serve a larger purpose.

"It's a good thing for a freshman to spend some time over there (on the bench)," he said. "It builds motivation to work harder, to learn the system better and go out and earn that playing time."

Sheppard, who finished his career by being named Most Outstanding Player in the 1998 Final Four, accepted his sitting as a freshman behind Tony Delk and Jeff Brassow. "I wanted to play," he said, "but I felt like it was pretty fair."

Delk, who averaged only 9.6 minutes and 4.5 points as a freshman, was on the way to becoming the fifth-most prolific scorer in UK history. Brassow was a "savvy vet" who knew then-UK Coach Rick Pitino's system, Sheppard said.

And UK Coach Billy Gillispie's tough-love approach is nothing new. Sheppard recalled receiving tongue-lashings from Pitino.

"Oh, definitely," he said. "But I wasn't the only one getting yelled at. ...

"It's a level of intensity the high school player has never experienced."

John Pelphrey, who became one of "The Unforgettables," had a forgettable freshman season: 9.5 minutes per game, 1.7 points and an avert-your-eyes audition at point guard. Another former Mr. Basketball, he went on to score 1,257 points for Kentucky.

Now the second-year coach at Arkansas, Pelphrey carried perspective into a rebuilding effort that included several freshmen.

"Most high school guys or first-year players, when they come through the door, their expectations with how they think it's going to go doesn't usually match up with how it really is," he said before the season began. "That's no different than it was for any of us.

"Everybody's adjustment period when you change a level, sometimes can be very easy or sometimes can take awhile."

Poor shooting poured salt into Miller's wounded pride. In UK's last 11 games, he's made only 10 of 38 shots (three of 16 from three-point range).

Clark Kellogg, who will provide commentary on the CBS telecast of Sunday's Kentucky-Louisville game, had his own moments of struggle as an Ohio State freshman.

As Kellogg saw it, he had two advantages over Miller:

■ He played on a veteran team. "They took considerable pressure off me," Kellogg said of his teammates. UK's reliance on new point guards is well chronicled.

■ He played power forward rather than a position that demands ball-handling and decision-making. "I could kind of just think of doing what I needed to do as opposed to trying to get other people involved," Kellogg said.

Early last week, Liggins acknowledged how the performances of other freshmen played on his mind. Kellogg saw this as a fruitless exercise.

"Every flower will bloom in its own time," he said. "For young kids, sometimes that can be hard to understand, see and embrace. ...

"You never know when young kids are going to find confidence and consistency. Sometimes it's just a game away."