Last Shot: UK's Darius Miller wants to end career at Kentucky with NCAA championship title
Darius Miller came up with a key steal and dunk in the win over Louisville. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip / April 2, 2012)
Miller laughed at the suggestion Sunday, saying he knew little about politics and “I don’t think that would be good for the state” for him to be involved in politics.
However, it would be “good for the state” if Kentucky can complete its national championship quest and let Miller go out with a storybook finish. He’s gone from being Mr. Basketball and a state champion at Mason County to enduring a NIT season under Billy Gillispie as a freshman to playing for a national title in his final game.
Ironically, Miller may well set a record tonight that will not be broken — at least not for many years with the way coach John Calipari recruits such high-level talent that few players are going to stay four years.
Miller will play in his 152nd game, breaking the career record for games played he currently shares with Wayne Turner. They are the only two players ever to play in 150 or more games.
Miller said Sunday he’s not thinking about the end of his career that has produced 1,243 points, 174 3-point goals, 483 rebounds, 278 assists and 114 steals.
“I am just trying to enjoy the moment, spend time with my teammates and friends and family down here. I am just waiting to play the next game. When it gets to game time, we just have to play like we have all year. It’s down to basketball, something we have been doing all our life,” he said.
“I have not thought about playing in the most games. There’s not time to. We are still trying to win this championship. Tomorrow will be the last time this team we will be together. But I am trying not to think about that too much and just play basketball.”
Miller says he’s not thought about his legacy or worried about it. He’s enjoyed being with teammates and says many of his former teammates have sent him Final Four text messages wishing him good luck.
“But my legacy,¿I have not thought about that. I am just enjoying the moment,” Miller said.
Calipari knows what Miller’s legacy will be.
“His legacy's going to be he's going to be a top-30 scorer, rebounder, assist. Took two teams to a Final Four. Don't know what the end result will be yet, but two teams to a Final Four, one to an Elite Eight. Has won a ton of games over his time here. Is going to graduate. Is Kentucky's own,” Calipari said. “They love him. He’s beloved. He’s going to be one of those guys 50 years from now, they’re going to be talking about.”
What Miller really wants fans to be talking about is Kentucky winning a national championship. He endured a freshman year under coach Gillispie when UK went to the NIT.¿He’s gotten close to national titles the last two years, but this season he’s been at his best in clutch spots and that’s one reason UK will play for the national crown.
“We never really put pressure on ourselves. We took every day, day by day, trying to get better that day. We were just worried about what we control, that’s playing as good as we can. We’re not thinking about any pressure or anything like that,” Miller said. “Of course, people outside of us try to put pressure on us. But we don’t listen to people outside of what we call ‘the family’ anyway. It’s been basketball for us the whole tournament. I think that’s probably the reason why we’re so successful.”
Teammates give more credit to Miller than he gives to himself.
“He has been very patient and waited for his turn to come,” sophomore guard Doron Lamb said. “I know winning a title would mean a lot to him. He’s been here four years, and every year he’s got closer to winning. Now it is his last game. We are trying to win for everybody really. But Darius is our leader. I know he wants to win a championship really bad. He wants to leave college with a bang. He has always pushed us in games.
“Nobody can hate him. He’s a guy you have got to like. He does nothing wrong. You’ve got to like him and respect him.”
Sophomore Terrence Jones, Miller’s roommate, says he’ll never forget how Miller immediately helped him when he got to campus, even though the two did not know each other.
“He showed me everything. I’ll never forget that,” Jones said. “He took care of me and did not even know me. I just know he was a big brother to me and took care of me.
“He is from Kentucky. He’s been here a long time. When you see Darius with dudes you have never seen before, and you know they are good because they are with him. He knows everybody, too. He’s been here almost as long as I was in high school. He’s the old man on campus. I¿think they have a wheelchair for him and a special parking spot. But he’s been one of the best teammates you could ever have.”
He certainly never complains. Not when he’s played with revolving rosters. Not when he’s lost his starting spot. Not when he’s been blasted by Calipari. Not when fans have questioned why he didn’t do more.
“The rosters have always been a little different at the beginning of each year. We have different talents, different personalities,” Miller said. “Coach Cal does a great job setting the way we play and a great job letting us all know what we need to do. At a certain point we all get comfortable with what we need to do for our team and then we just play basketball.”
Miller says he has a “lot of respect” for Kansas, a team Kentucky beat in mid-November in New York in its second game of the year. “They were a tough team the first time we played them and they have gotten even better,” Miller said.
So has Kentucky. The Cats had to hang on to beat Louisville 69-61 Saturday, but now the pressure is off. UK is in the title game it expected to be in, and there is no in-state rival waiting. Kansas is good, but now the prize is there for Kentucky to take, and it is hard to imagine Miller and his teammates not grabbing it.
“It’s a great feeling to still be here. After we won the other day, we all looked around and got so excited,” Miller said. “We are all happy. I’m blessed to be part of this. We’re excited to be going to the championship game. But now we have to settle down and treat this as another game. We don’t feel any pressure. We just have to play basketball, something we have been doing all year.”
For Miller, he’s been doing it four years at Kentucky and doing it well as his stats, wins and leadership show. Now it is one-and-done for him in his final Kentucky game.
“He’s going to be in the NBA next year, but we know what playing that last Kentucky game will be like for him,” Jones said. “We all want to win, but we really want to win it for him.”