Darius Miller figures he's starting the Kentucky Wildcats 2011-12 basketball season well ahead of his teammates.
Even though Miller and the United States team failed to medal in the World University Games in Shenzhen, China, the UK senior forward feels like the physical conditioning he gained has him in regular-season form now.
"I feel like I got a jump start to the season," Miller said Friday during a news conference at Memorial Coliseum. "I feel like my body is pretty good right now."
The 6-foot-7 Miller averaged 5.6 points and 3.6 rebounds for a U.S. team that went 7-1 to finish fifth in the international tournament, which consisted of teams of college-aged players.
Lithuania halted the U.S. bid for the gold medal with a 76-74 victory in the quarterfinals.
"The competition was very good," Miller said, "but I was still surprised we lost. I felt like we had the best team there. We should have won."
In the loss to the Lithuanians, the U.S. shot 34.3 percent from the floor and missed all 14 of its three-point tries in the second half. After rallying from eight down to tie the game at 74, the U.S. missed its last five shots.
In their seven other games, the Americans never shot worse than 45.7 percent from the floor.
"We had a pretty bad shooting night and I think we let that affect us on the defensive end," Miller said of the loss.
Miller says he spent some time playing power forward and tried to concentrate on rebounding. He had eight boards against Mexico, six versus Finland and five in the U.S. victory over South Korea.
With departed senior big man Josh Harrellson and his 8.7 rebounds a game gone from UK, Miller — who averaged 4.6 rebounds last season — says he expects to be asked to pick up the pace on the boards this winter.
"Josh was a big part of our team, especially in rebounding," Miller said. "We're going to have to all work and somebody is going to have to pick up the slack there."
Thanks to basketball, Miller is becoming something of a renowned world traveler. Two summers ago, he was part of the U.S. team that won the gold medal in the Under-19 World Championships in New Zealand.
This summer, the World University Games took him to Shenzhen, a city of some 8.6 million people in the south of China.
Miller said the U.S. basketball players did not have time to see the sights. "The Great Wall of China, they told us it was like five hours away," he said. "We didn't get to see that."
Still, "just being over there was a great experience," Miller said. "We saw a lot of stuff that was totally different."
The Kentucky forward reports that Chinese food actually prepared in China is "different. It took a little time to adjust to it. They eat different stuff than we do, different spices and stuff they use," he said.
American players were told not to drink the water at their hotel. "I couldn't tell you why," Miller said. "They just told us not to drink it."
His cellphone didn't work in China, either. "That hurt pretty bad," Miller said, smiling.
At least there were familiar faces with Miller in Shenzhen. The two leading scorers on the U.S. team were Vanderbilt's John Jenkins (13.5 ppg) and Alabama's JaMychal Green (12.6). "We're definitely going to have a real competitive league in the SEC," Miller said.
Miller believes his summer spent playing with a U.S. national team will pay off this winter for Kentucky far more than if he'd simply stayed in Lexington playing pickup ball.
"No one plays defense in pickup games," Miller says. "(International basketball) gets you ready for the season. It's more realistic."