Sometimes the stats don’t tell the whole story. A player can have a huge impact on the final outcome of the game, but you would never know it by scanning the box score. Sometimes the stats tell the wrong story. A player might score a lot of points and get a few assists, but did he look to get his teammates involved? Did he play tough defense? Did he make smart plays?
The ups and downs of Darius are well documented. All of us have had the discussion that began with phrases like I just wish Darius would step up or He could be so good if ____ or Darius just needs to be more _____. Coach Cal has said some of the same things. When the team loses we look for someone to blame. It’s easy to look at the stat sheet and blame Darius sometimes.
Darius Miller’s stats are often put onto a pedestal amongst UK fans. We elevate his stats and we study them and we run them through the wringer more than we have for any other UK player this year. We over-examine them. We are quick to feverishly point out a tepid performance (2/11 FG, 7 points, 4 rebounds and 5 fouls vs. Georgia 1/8/11), a single-digit scoring effort (3 points vs. West Virginia 3/19/11), or disappearing and taking four shots in 31 minutes (3 points, 1 rebound and 1 assist vs. Mississippi on 2/01/11).Yet we quickly pass over the games in which he scores 15 points or more (8 in SEC and tournament play). It slips our mind that Darius was the key to beating Florida twice this year; scoring 39 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking 5 shots along with shutting down SEC player of the year Chandler Parsons with great defense in those two wins. During UKs current win streak, Darius has scored double-digits in 8/10 games, shot over 40% from behind the arch, and played some of his best defense all year.
We forget those great games because we have come to expect nothing less of Darius Miller. Could it be that our expectations are unfair?
I saw a clip of an interview with Mark Krebs which took place around the peak of the entire where’s Darius talk. It took place on KSTV. Mark was asked why Darius was struggling and seemed so timid and he thought that part of the reason Darius was so timid was because of some kind of lasting effects of former coach Billy Gillespie. I don’t mean to talk bad about Billy (congrats on the new job) but Billy’s style was very commanding, very demanding and very in-your-face. Perhaps that didn’t mesh will with a young, impressionable and relatively quiet kid from Maysville, KY.
I only bring that up to point to the fact that I think Darius is cut from a different cloth. He seems very quiet and reserved (much like DeAndre Liggins) off the court. Unlike Liggins, perhaps that timidity carries over to the court. We think that intensity often manifests itself as a jersey-pop or a yell or a chest thump because those things draw attention to themselves. We hardly notice the intensity of a focused, stoic face. Perhaps Darius is different. If so, perhaps there’s a different way to handle Darius. Maybe we should change our expectations of Darius. We all want him to succeed and to reach his full potential – but who are we to define his level of success and determine his full potential?
What if his game centers on getting other guys involved and doing the little things? Those kinds of guys are a necessity for winning teams. Clearly Darius is a team guy and loves his teammates. At the beginning of the year Darius and a few guys joined Josh Harrellson in some of his extra conditioning so that Josh wouldn’t feel singled out. Darius is always looking to make the extra pass or find a way to get his teammates involved.
Certainly everyone remembers Darius passing up a good 3-point look at the end of an SEC road game which UK lost. If he had made the shot – he had an open look - UK would have won. But he hesitated, made a pass, and someone else got a much tougher shot off and missed. To paraphrase what Coach Cal might say, he was afraid to miss. You can’t be afraid to miss. Darius tweeted an apology to fans before the next game.
I could be wrong but I *think* I saw Darius calling for the ball at the end of the Princeton game. I think he wanted to take that shot. He had the hot hand that game and he knew it. Brandon Knight may have looked his way, seen the defender closing in, and decided to drive the ball to the rim. I’m not saying Darius should have taken that shot; I’m not even saying he would have made it. But it looked like he WANTED to take that shot. I don’t think we can ask any more of Darius if he continues to do all the things he does and is willing to step up when he has too.
The beauty of stats is that you can twist the numbers around to say almost anything. But the undeniable truth is that Darius Miller contributes every single night he steps on the court. He plays quality defense for over 30 minutes a game, shoots the ball with accuracy and is often involved in the big plays of the game.
An offensive rebound that led to a 3-point play in the waning minutes of the Elite Eight victory against North Carolina stands out in my mind. Darius often makes key plays that mean so much more than the tally in the box score shows. Others have mentioned that Darius was involved in both of Brandon Knights game winning shots. Brandon Knight hit THE shot against Princeton but the 17 points Darius scored were crucial, allowing the Wildcats to sneak by the Tigers. Darius played 39 minutes in the upset win over Ohio State. He may have only scored 7 points against the Buckeyes but he had 2 blocks, 2 steals, 4 rebounds and 4 assists – one of those assists a memorable lob to Harrellson on a fast break. Every play was crucial against Ohio State and Darius made a lot of plays.
Darius is part of what makes this team so lovable. He is an intricate part of the machine. There would be no team without Darius. Kentucky would not be where they are without his sometimes spectacular, sometimes forgettable, but always necessary contributions. I truly believe that other players would not be playing at the level they are without the encouragement, determination and commitment of Darius Miller to both the team and his teammates. Everyone else is getting the credit for this historic run to the Final Four and I think Darius is happy with that.