By Bill Sorrell
From the NBA to college to high school, Mike Miller has reversed the order of basketball during the 2020-21 season.
This is the first year Miller has been a high school basketball coach after assisting at the University of Memphis under head coach Penny Hardaway from 2018-2020. Miller was hired in July 2020 to take the Mustangs reigns after Charlie Leonard retired.
Miller played in the NBA 17 seasons including the Memphis Grizzlies from 2003-2008 and in 2013-14. The Grizzlies were one of seven teams Miller played for at small forward and shooting guard since he was drafted by the Orlando Magic in 2000.
After a career at Mitchell, South Dakota High School that included being named to the McDonald’s All-American team in 1998, Miller played at the University of Florida from 1998-2000 leading the Gators to the 2000 NCAA national championship game before losing to Michigan State. Miller then declared for the NBA draft.
“Basketball is something I have been a part of my entire life,” said Miller, whose team includes his sons Mason Miller, a senior, and Maverick Miller, a sophomore, defeated Arlington 77-69 on Friday at Arlington.
The Mustangs (15-3) were ranked No. 2 in the state in the Associated Press poll entering the game. The Tigers (16-4) were ranked No. 8.
As each level of basketball Miller has played and coached in, this year has “been challenging,” he said. “Obviously everything you go into you try to do as well as you can but it’s a challenge. You are trying to learn on the fly. Every day you are trying to learn something new.
“It’s a lot of fun because you can make a real impact on these kids. Any knowledge or wisdom that I can put on top is what I am trying to do.”
What has also been fun has been coaching his sons.
“It’s a challenge but it’s a lot of fun for me being around them every day and have that opportunity. It has been really unique,” said Miller.
Mason Miller, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, said that playing for his dad is “definitely exciting having him as my coach. He’s a good coach. I have been playing with him my whole life. He has helped me work on my jump shot. He’s always been there for me even outside of basketball and helped me through everything.”
He also calls his brother Maverick “a good player” and likes the opportunity to be teammates.
The Mustangs are loaded with senior leadership with 11 seniors and three going to play Division 1. Jerrell Colbert, at 6-10 the tallest player on the team, has committed to play at LSU.
Mason Miller has committed to Creighton and Jonathan Lawson to Oregon.
“All our kids are going to play basketball next season,” said Mike Miller.
What has fueled the Pony express has been that they have done it with multiple players.
“It’s never really one person. We do it with a lot of players,” said Miller, who likes that usually five players score in double figures. “We want to every game.”
Houston had four players in double figures on Friday with T.J. Madlock leading with 21.
Mason Miller scored 15, Zander Yates scored 14, Lawson 10.
Arlington, one of the few teams along with Houston that usually has five players in double figures, got four players in doubles on Friday.
Sophomore Javar Daniel, who is 6-10, scored a game-high 24 points while Anthony Medlock scored 20, Isaiah Jones 15, Madison Peaster, Jr., 10.
Houston had defeated Arlington 81-61 on January 29.
“It wasn’t pretty,” said Daniel. “We came out playing hard. They weren’t expecting us to play hard. We started playing harder then they decided to start playing harder.”
The Mustangs’ energy level increased as the game went along.
“Our energy level wasn’t great to start the game but we found ways to get involved and get into it. When we did that we made some shots and finally ended up winning the game,” said Mike Miller.
“When we are not playing great basketball I think the biggest thing is that we can still fight through it and find a way to win games. I think they played really well here at home and we didn’t play our best basketball.”
Said Colbert, “We started playing hard after the second quarter.”
The biggest lead the Mustangs had during the game was early in the fourth quarter when Madlock’s goal put them up 62-47.
That capped a 22-7 run after Arlington had tied the game at 40 on Medlock’s trey early in the third quarter.
“It was a game of runs,” said Arlington head coach Maurice Miller. “We are still a very young team. We came out a little timid. It went back and forth, three or four-point game the majority of the game.
“I have seen so much film on them. A lot of people don’t compete with them because of their roster. That was one of the biggest things I was preaching. Of course we want to win but I just want to go out and work every day. Our structure, our fight, our resiliency, play every play.
“I think we took them out of what they were used to doing. We made it very uncomfortable for them. One of the (Houston) coaches was like that was one of the toughest games they have played in the city. At first Arlington was a surprise and now we are up and coming.”
Arlington was playing without its leading scorer point guard Philip Dotson, who sprained his ankle on Feb. 10. He averages 18 or 19 points a game.
“It would have been interesting if we had him tonight,” said Miller.
Point guard Andre Watson was out with a broken thumb. Power forward Jake Golday (6-6) did not play.
He is focusing on football after signing to play at Central Arkansas. Miller expects all three to return before the season ends.
The Tigers start three sophomores.
“We played well in spurts. We weren’t necessarily consistent. I think the youth kind of got us then not having Phil. He stretches the floor out so much because he can shoot it from anywhere. They were able to pack deeper than norm with their length. Having Phil tonight would have stretched the floor. Madison finished solid. I think he has a better game when Phil is on the floor because you can’t really focus sitting in the gaps because you have to respect Phil. He can shoot it from the parking lot,” said Miller, who thought Daniel and Medlock played well.
It was the most points Daniel has scored all season.
He opened the game with a steal and a dunk. He had another dunk with 7:28 left in the game.
He has been dunking since the 8th grade. He has also been a high jumper in track.
“The crowd likes to see me dunk. I try my best,” said Daniel. “It’s easy to score when I’m close to the basket.”
Daniel was not the only dunker.
Houston’s Cal Greene was like a freight train going to the basket. His ferocious dunks gave Houston leads of 66-52 and 73-60.
Peaster’s dunk ended the game for Arlington, making the final score.
Maurice Miller called Houston’s Yates “the ice breaker” because of Yates’ four 3-pointers that opened the floor for the Mustangs.
“He played outstanding for them tonight.” Yates scored Houston’s first six points on two treys.
After Daniel got another steal and scored to put the Tigers ahead 4-3 they never led again although they tied the game also at 19 on a goal by JaMarcus Powell, at 21 on a basket by Medlock, a goal by Jones at 26.
Madlock tied the game at 37 in the third quarter with 6:25 left.
Houston took an 11-4 lead on a 3-pointer by Lawson and Mason Miller’s basket doubled the lead to 16-8 with 1:37 left in the first.
Both teams traded treys. Daniel’s put the lead to 16-11 before Yates put Houston ahead 19-11. A trey by Medlock cut it to 19-14. Medlock scored a goal and free throw and it was 19-17 at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter Ahmad Powell hit a 3-pointer to put Houston ahead 24-21. His second trey of the quarter made it a 29-26 lead.
Medlock’s 3-pointer pulled the Tigers to within 32-31 with 2:35 left.
Madlock’s three gave Houston a 37-33 lead at halftime.
Mason Miller’s three gave the Mustangs a 43-40 lead with 5:42 left in the third quarter.
Yates’ trey with 4:23 left in the third stretched Houston’s lead to 46-41.
It would grow.
Free throws by Madlock made it a 13-point game 58-45 at the end of the third quarter.
Madlock opened the fourth the way he closed the third, hitting two free throws. A trey by Jones closed the lead to 62-50. Miller’s 3-pointer made it 71-59. Nowell gave Houston a 75-62 lead before Jones’ trey closed it to 75-65.
Miller increased it to 77-65 before Daniel and Peaster closed the Tigers’ scoring.
“We missed a couple of layups at the end because we just got burned out. That really could have made it interesting,” said Maurice Miller.
Nowell finished with 8 for the Mustangs. Colbert scored 5, Greene 4.
Jace Lockhart added 1 and Powell 2 for the Tigers.
“We have had a good season playing hard together,” said Mason Miller, who committed to Creighton because of the Bluejays’ style of play, their coach Creg McDermott and the “good class” entering with him.
Wearing a cross earring, Miller said that he prays before and after games. “I am always praying.”
Mike Miller said that his team is playing better each day and getting better. “We are competing every day. That is all you can ask for.”
In his second year as head coach, Maurice Miller is proud of his team, which has three seniors.
“I am looking forward to coming to work every day being around these guys. It’s challenging but it’s fun,” he said.
The Tigers missed two weeks of the season because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“You can’t complain because there are so many kids that didn’t get this opportunity. I would be selfish if I was complaining about it. It is a unique situation. We are still taking the kicks with the punches, just enjoying the ride.”
While there have been offers from colleges, none of the Tigers have committed to play basketball at the next level.
“We are still working (on that). That is why those games against Houston are huge. You are the underdog, you give yourself a chance to be in that light. Madison and Isaiah are going to college. Jace is academic. He is going to college. Carlos (Wilson) is academic. He is going to college. JaMelle is academic. All of them are going to college. That is the beauty of it all. That is the most rewarding part,” said Maurice Miller.
“We’ve got a special group. They love each other. We are bonding. We are young. We just played a team full of seniors. Even last year we went 26-7 with seven freshmen. We lost in Sub-State to Houston. We are getting there.”
The Tigers have been able to play in sync this season because of playing together last year said Daniel.
“When we focus and play hard we try not to get overwhelmed when bad things happen on the court. We don’t argue as a team. We motivate each other. Our strength is passing the ball. We talk more than last year. We were freshmen. We were worried about mistakes. We are not as worried about mistakes this year,” said Daniel, who likes all aspects of basketball, scoring, shooting, dribbling.
For Colbert, who chose LSU because it was the best situation for him and trusts the coaches to do what is best for him, said the defense is what the team will build on. “I love our defense and how we control the pace.”
Maurice Miller has coached against Leonard and Mike Miller.
“They both have unique coaching styles. They both do a great job of utilizing their size. They had size last year. The main thing is having older kids as far as juniors and seniors who understand it and have the patience. That is one of the things we are struggling with but we are getting better at it. The more we get better at it the more the results will change,” said Maurice Miller. “Hopefully our paths can collide and we can get another crack at it.”
Last year, Leonard led the Mustangs to a berth in the state tournament. It was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. The TSSAA announced February 10 that there will be a state tournament this year.
Playing for Mike Miller has been “amazing” said Colbert. “I learned from him how to face up if I shoot better and how I can control the pace. He is teaching us the way we can learn on the next level and that’s amazing.”
Mike Miller said, “For me it’s being around high school kids, trying to get better, getting (them) to have the ability to be coachable and them responding. For me it’s a blessing.”