If basketball coaches were given nicknames like players are, Mike Miller might be known as King Midas.
Miller has the uncanny ability to improve anything within his grasp.
First Cathedral High School.
Then Ribet Academy.
And over the past two years, Miller has applied the Midas touch to Los Angeles City College.
Yet there is nothing magical about his approach to success.
“I build my basketball philosophy around defense and fundamentals,” Miller said. “If a team does these two things well, it is going to be in every game and thus have a chance to win.”
In six years as a head coach, he has amassed a 143-37 record, winning almost 80% of his games.
This year, Miller guided the Cubs to a 27-6 regular season and a third-round appearance in the State Junior College Playoffs, the furthest the school has advanced in more than 30 years. LACC lost to Chaffey College, 82-80, at Chaffey. The Cubs also made appearances in four cable-televised games, another school first.
“Hard work is the basis of our program at LACC,” Miller said.
His players agree.
"(Miller) can be rough at times, but he is a winner,” said former LACC point guard Raheem Muhammad, who will play at UC Irvine next fall. “He knows what it takes to win.”
And Midas also knows how to make sure the wealth is spread among his players.
Muhammad is one of three--Mike Dorsey and Marty Cotwright are the others--who received scholarships from Division I schools.
“We played hard and as a team at all times,” said Dorsey, who will attend Cal State Northridge. “There were better teams (than us), but execution separated us. Playing at LACC made me stronger, improved my all-around game and made me more familiar with the college game.”
Interestingly enough, Muhammad, Dorsey and Cotwright, who will attend the University of New Mexico, all failed to make the 1993-94 All Southern California Athletic Conference Basketball Team.
Markee Brown, Saipele Tuialii and Derek Higgins were the three LACC representatives--and the only freshmen--to make the all-conference team.
“We don’t have one superstar on our team, but six or seven guys that can contribute,” Miller said.
Miller, 30, began his coaching career as an apprentice at La Canada High School, then moved to a frosh-soph position at Blair High School in Pasadena.
He moved on to Cathedral High, where the Phantoms were 43-11 under him from 1987-89, the most successful two-year period in the school’s 65-year history. Cathedral won two consecutive Santa Fe League Championships and went to the Southern Section Final Four both years.
At Ribet Academy, in Glassell Park, Miller’s teams captured two consecutive Southern Section Championships and a Division V State Championship. The Fighting Frogs were 58-5 during Miller’s tenure.
What did Miller learn in the transition from high school to community college?
“The athletes are better and need more (creative) freedom,” he said. “The level of intensity is a lot higher, and the talent is more balanced.”
Miller attended Glendale Community College and then Cal State L.A., graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English. He received a master’s in education from Azusa Pacific University and is working on a doctorate in education.
His obsession with learning is reflected by his team’s 2.82 cumulative grade-point average. In fact, the Cubs are up for the state junior colleges’ National Academic Award.
“We had no Ds or Fs on our team, which is incredible because kids often go to junior college because of poor grades,” Miller said.
“The junior college level is about preparing guys to go Division I and Division II--not just to win.”