Wildcats waiting for Miller to bust out
Every so often Kentucky coach John Calipari will stop practice after guard Darius Miller does something spectacular.
Calipari will blow the whistle, play will stop and the coach will turn to Miller's teammates with a pleading look. In turn the Wildcats will yell to the talented, but inconsisent junior:
''Do that in a game!''
Miller says he's trying.
The athletic Miller has become an enigma in his two-plus seasons on campus. Calipari believes the former Kentucky ''Mr. Basketball'' has the ability to take over games.
He's just not doing it, at least, not yet.
Miller is averaging 9.9 points and 5.3 rebounds for the 17th-ranked Wildcats (6-2), who play rapidly improving Indiana (7-1) on Saturday.
Yet Calipari says there are too many times when Miller can disappear in plain sight. That can't happen on a team with just 10 players in uniform.
''There's something that holds him back when it's a four-point game and he can bust open the game,'' Calipari said. ''There's something that makes him evaporate when we've got guys out and now you must step up and go do something. You take over. There's something that's holding him back.''
What it is Calipari has no idea. The two have met one-on-one recently in hopes of finding a solution. Even Miller isn't sure what's wrong.
''I expect he wants me to be more productive on the offensive and being more aggressive offensively and defensively,'' he said. ''I'm glad he has that much confidence in me, that's a help that he has that much confidence in me. I guess I have to just step up my production.''
It's not that Miller isn't doing anything; he's just not doing something all the time. He didn't have a rebound during the first half of a win over Notre Dame on Wednesday, finishing with five in 37 minutes.
Calipari let Miller know that it wasn't nearly good enough. With center Enes Kanter ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA for taking improper benefits while playing for a Turkish club team, Kentucky is undersized.
Miller can play bigger than his 6-foot-7 frame. He snared a rebound in traffic off a late free throw miss against North Carolina, starting a break that at least let teammate Doron Lamb get off a desperation last-second heave that fell short.
It was quintessential Miller. He went and made a play, then deferred to a teammate. It was fine a year ago when he was surrounded by a handful of NBA first-round picks. The Wildcats aren't nearly as deep this season.
''The last two years he was fine just running around, it was going to be OK,'' Calipari said.
It's not anymore. Calipari knows Miller can do things when the Wildcats find themselves in a hole. He did it last season against Tennessee in a game Kentucky lost. He did in the second half against UConn last month, a game that turned into another loss.
Calipari would love to see that kind of tenacity when the game is on the line. Too often Miller becomes reticent when things get tight.
Miller is hardly the first player Calipari has coached who needs to be coaxed out of his shell, and Calipari says the team will continue to rely on freshmen Terrence Jones and Brandon Knight if it has to. He'd like Miller to help carry the load.
''Whenever that tiger comes out of you and whenever you understand it, you're going to become a totally different guy,'' Calipari said. ''It's physically tough, you're going to get knocked around.''
Miller can handle the pounding. It's everything else that's become problematic. Polite almost to a fault, he acknowledges he's still not sure when he gets the ball in his hands whether to pass or shoot or when to get to the glass or try and get out on the break.
''We have a lot of talented scores and I'm still trying to figure it out,'' he said.
Sooner would be preferable to Calipari, who praised the work Tom Crean has done with the Hoosiers. Indiana has lost 13 of its last 16 in the series, but Calipari joked he might scrub the annual meeting between the border rivals if Crean keeps landing top-notch recruits.
Calipari wasn't kidding when he called Miller's maturation a key to the season. His potential replacements - sophomore Jon Hood and freshman Stacey Poole - have done little in Miller's stead. And while Knight and Jones have hogged most of the headlines, Miller is arguably the best all-around athlete on the team.
Calipari thinks it's time Miller starts making strides toward becoming the best all-around player.
''We should all be seeing him saying 'Wow' and we're not,'' Calipari said.