PASADENA — There is a real possibility that no one from the Pasadena Poly girls’ basketball program will ever match the entire body of work of graduating senior Michelle Miller.
The 17-year-old, who lives within walking distance of the 378 student-campus, took the program to new heights.
While it’s one thing to win, and the Panthers certainly did that with a 92-18 (.836 winning percentage) record during Miller’s reign, it’s another matter to get a leg up on some of the greatest names in women’s basketball history.
En route to scoring 877 points this season and finishing fifth all-time in the state list and 29th nationally, Miller jumped from out of the top 10 to second all-time in the CIF Southern Section scoring ranks, finishing with 3, 331 total career points.
Within this season, she also surpassed such legends as Lisa Leslie (2,896) and Diana Taurasi (3,047) and is now second only to perhaps the greatest women’s basketball icon, Cheryl Miller, who scored 3,446 points at Riverside Poly.
“To be named with Lisa Leslie and Diana Taurasi is awesome,” said Michelle Miller, who still blushes when compared to the hoops greats. “They’re such amazing players and role models for players like me to look up to.”
It is because of those accomplishments during a senior season that capped a scintillating career that Miller has been voted the 2012 All-Area Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year by the editors and sports writers of the Glendale News-Press, Burbank Leader, La Cañada Valley Sun and Pasadena Sun.
Miller averaged a daunting 32.5 points per game in leading the Panthers to a 22-5 mark and a run to the second round of the uber-competitive CIF Southern Section Division IV-AA playoffs. She scored 40 or more points five times this season, including a season-high of 52 points against Flintridge Prep on Jan. 20 and scored 22 points or more in all but one game — she was held to a season-low of 18 against Saugus on Dec. 30, 2011. Perhaps most impressively, she scored 33 in her team’s playoff opener against El Segundo, before going out with 36 points against Division IV-AA semifinalist Bellarmine-Jefferson.
Of course, Miller, who shot 49% from the field and 84% from the line, did more than just score, as she filled up the stat line to the tune of averaging 13 rebounds a game, 1.6 assists, 2.1 blocks and 2.2 steals. She had double-doubles in all but five games.
One of Miller’s many highlights came Saturday, Jan. 7 at Webb School in Claremont.
The Panthers’ co-captain and Prep League Most Valuable Player scored 45 points and hauled in 17 rebounds as Poly defeated Webb, 76-35, in league play.
The effort marked the sixth of 14 times this season in which Miller outscored her opponents single-handedly, but also pushed Miller ahead of Leslie on the all-time scoring list.
“My coach [Kim Weber] got a call that morning from Fox Sports and I did an interview with one of their reporters,” Miller said. “There was a lot of media at that game and then afterward, KTLA was there and they did an interview. I never experienced so much attention before.”
One unheralded element Miller showcased before and after the contest and throughout season was her diplomacy.
“She was the face of the program,” Weber said. “She really put a large spotlight on a small school and a small-school basketball program.”
Miller also best represented her school and its community during league play, in which she sat out every fourth quarter and, in some contests, even hit the bench earlier, as Poly went undefeated in league, at 12-0, and averaged trouncing its league mates by 45.3 points per game.
The decision, reached between Miller and Weber, may have very well cost Miller the opportunity to surpass Cheryl Miller, whom she trailed by only 115 points.
“Coach and I thought what was more important than scoring was to play with class and to represent the school,” Miller said. “To be honest, it hurt. I’m competitive and I wanted to be out there and I was only 100 points off.
“But, there are things more important than scoring and records and that’s having respect for your opponents, your teammates and yourself.”
With Miller, Poly was able to face stiff competition, such as when it entered into the challenging West Coast Holiday Festival in which the Panthers faced all upper-division teams in Marymount, Norco, Arlington, Burbank and Saugus and finished 3-2 overall.
Miller was a first-team tournament selection in that tournament and was MVP of Poly’s own tournament, in which the Panthers won for the first time during Miller’s tenure.
“We came close before, like in my junior year, when we lost in the championship game,” Miller said. “But it was special to win our own tournament.”
Miller, a CIF Southern Section Division IV-AA second-teamer, certainly created a new norm at Poly.
In the four years before her arrival, Poly combined for a record of 48-50 and never finished higher than third in the Prep League.
In her four years, Miller shouldered the program to four league championships, an 11-5 postseason record (including state and Southern Section playoffs) and a CIF Southern Section Division V-A title in 2011.
Yet, despite the stats and wins, there was a constant theme of doubt during the Miller era — particularly from larger schools who took delight in questioning “little” Poly.
“It was a lot of fun to prove people wrong, I really enjoyed it,” said Miller, who chose Princeton over USC. “I kind of expect the same at Princeton. We’re from the Ivy League and not from tougher conferences like the PAC-12. The next four years should be fun.”