It just can’t be — an NBA Draft prospect from Kentucky that’s a senior. They don’t do seniors at Kentucky, do they?
Welcome to Darius Miller’s world.
“It seems like the older I got,” he said, “the younger everybody else got.”
One of the hottest prospects in the country when he joined the Wildcats in 2008 — he was Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball and led Mason County to the state championship — Miller wound up playing four solid but unspectacular seasons while other short-timers in the famously (infamously?) one-and-done program grabbed the headlines and climbed to the top of the draft boards.
After playing with seven first-round picks, a number that could grow to 12 in two weeks as all five underclassmen starters from the Wildcats’ national championship team are projected to go in the first round on June 28, it is now Miller’s turn to see what he can do in the NBA.
Included in that group are John Wall, the No. 1 pick in 2010 and Anthony Davis, expected to be the top pick this year. DeMarcus Cousins (2010) and Brandon Knight (2011) were lottery picks, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist very likely will join their number on June 28.
Clearly, Miller is a guy who knows how to carve a niche alongside elite talent.
“I played with a lot of pros on my team and against them,” he said Thursday after working out with five other prospects for the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “We played against a lot of good teams, a lot of competition so I try to use that. I’ve seen a lot of these guys play; I’ve gone up against a lot of them. It’s fun competing with the best players in the country.”
At 6-8 and 225 pounds, Miller has NBA size and a nice all-around skill set. He has 3-point range and solid ball skills. Though his game lacks that singular quality that sets him apart, so too does it lack a fatal flaw that will hamper his chances. He generally is projected to be selected in the top third of the second round.
His greatest strength may well be the mindset he had to develop in order to cope at Kentucky. He has no fantasies of stardom. He knows what he is — a solid role-player, a versatile talent capable of complementing his teammates in a variety of ways — and that is a rarity in a world where delusions of grandeur abound.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” he said of the pre-draft process. “Just to be a part of this, to have them invite me here has been a blessing. It’s something I’ve wanted, something everybody who’s played basketball their whole life has wanted.
“I’m just having fun with it all, competing with the best players in the country, got a chance to go to the combine. It’s all a blessing for me, like a dream come true. Right now I’m just enjoying it, going hard every day and whatever happens, happens.”
Miller started 69 games his sophomore and junior seasons but willing headed to the bench as a senior, though he played regularly. After averaging career highs of 10.9 points and 4.6 rebounds in 31.0 minutes as a junior, he slipped to 9.9 points, 2.8 rebounds and 26.1 minutes as a senior.
The Pacers aren’t expecting to fill a major need with the No. 26 pick in the first round. The core of the team is expected to return intact, assuming restricted free agents Roy Hibbert and George Hill are re-signed, but there is opportunity with the second unit, which could undergo a substantial revamping.
Of the key reserves, only Darren Collison, Tyler Hansbrough and Dahntay Jones are under contract — and Jones can opt out if he decides to seek a better opportunity elsewhere.
A guy like Miller could be a perfect fit.
“I’ve played with a lot of talented players, been on a lot of talented teams so I feel like I could come in and be comfortable in a lot of different roles. I played different roles at Kentucky and was comfortable with all of them so hopefully that can be an advantage for me,” he said. “I know they have a really good team with talented players. I got to see a lot of their matchup with the Heat in the playoffs and that was an exciting series.
“I feel like it would be fun to be part of this program. They’ve got young guys still coming up so it would be a lot of fun. I’m comfortable playing different roles. They have depth so they don’t need too much but if I was able to be a part of it I’d try to and help any way I can.”
Other first-round prospects working out Thursday were Vanderbilt forward Jeffery Taylor, Texas A&M forward Khris Middleton and Memphis guard Will Barton.