One-on-One with C.J. Miles

September 20, 2012
CJ Miles

C.J. Miles is genuinely happy to be a Cleveland Cavalier. It only takes a minute of talking with him to realize that.

Miles, one of the last high school players ever taken in the NBA Draft, is entering his eighth year in the league and doesn’t turn 26 until mid-March. (He said Kyrie’s already making old man jokes about him in practice.)

The versatile swingman spent his first seven seasons in Salt Lake City, with career averages of 8.4 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 389 games with the Jazz. He had his best season two years ago, averaging 12.4 points per contest. In last year’s Lockout-shortened season, Miles averaged 9.1 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.2 assists. He scored a season-high 27 points off the bench against Houston last year and notched a career high 40 points two seasons ago against Minnesota.

You could say that the 6-foot-6, 222-pound Miles’ best days are ahead of him.

Miles was drafted out of Skyline High School in Dallas by the Jazz with the 34th overall pick of the 2005 NBA Draft and matriculated under the great Jerry Sloan.

After signing a free agent deal on August 8, Miles looks to reboot his career in Cleveland. He’ll team up with rookie Dion Waiters at the 2 and will surely see some time at small forward.

The young veteran’s enthusiasm is infectious as he took a moment away from practice to speak with about switching teams and conferences, being a high school kid coached by Jerry Sloan and how he feels the Wine and Gold will fare this season …

For starters, why did you choose “0” as your number with the Cavaliers?
C.J. Miles: A change. I feel like it was a fresh start – coming in and starting over. And where else better to start than zero?

But I also took it because of the fact that I’m not supposed to be here. Statistically, I’m not supposed to be here – a second round pick. They said I wouldn’t be here after my first two years. Then they said I wouldn’t be here after my third year. Then after my sixth … Now I’m in my eighth season and I’m still here.

I’ve been No. 34 since I was a freshman in high school. So I felt like it was time – everything’s fresh, everything’s good. Not changing my identity. Just getting a new look.

What are your initial thoughts on the city of Cleveland?
Miles: I’ve only been around a little while. I was here a week right after I signed. I went to the Cavaliers golf outing. And I worked out with the coaches for a week.

I really didn’t get to drive around – (I didn’t have a car!) – and I stayed out here in Independence. I moved into my place over the weekend and got to drive around downtown for a little bit.

I haven’t explored too much, but from what I’ve seen, I like it. Everybody’s cool. The people have been great, everybody’s been welcoming. It feels good. Not to say I that people in Utah weren’t about the team, but coming here and seeing people wanting us to be as successful as badly as we want to be successful is really great.

MilesI told somebody the other day that Cleveland was a little bit like the East Coast version of Salt Lake City. It’s got the same kinda vibe to it – the way the fans are about the team, the market size. It snows.

Cleveland is more metropolitan, there’s more going on. But it’s been fun so far.

Are you settled in yet?
Miles: Not yet. One of my best friends is going to stay with me for a while and we’re going to go shopping together, so I don’t have to carry a million grocery bags and do everything at once.

But right now, in my refrigerator, there’s ginger ale, cranberry juice and water. And some jelly for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I can live off peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Your draft class (2005) was the last year that high school kids were eligible. Do you think that rule has worked out for the best?
Miles: I look at it like: I’m not the person to tell people when they’re ready to come out and when they’re not. But at the same time, I totally understand why that rule was created.

For every Kobe and T-Mac and KG, how many guys are out there where people don’t even know their names? They probably could have went to college and been lottery picks and the league would have been better off.

And I’ve said: I don’t regret not going to college, but could I have benefitted from it? Yes. There’s no way I couldn’t have benefitted from it. But I definitely understand both sides.

So you’re just out of high school and your first coach at the NBA level is Jerry Sloan. What was that like?
Miles: (laughs) It was crazy! It was good. I mean, I’m thankful that a coach like him was the coach I went to – being young. Because he instilled hard work and preparation – everything that you need to stay around in the league, especially being in the position I was at the time.

So that was great going there, but it was definitely different. But I also played for a real old-school coach in high school who was similar as far as the way we ran and conditioned. We even ran the same offense that Utah ran – just the language was a little different. (And Jerry Sloan’s language was a little different too!)

You’re entering your eighth year in the NBA and you’re only 25 years old – not that much older than the rookies. Are you comfortable in a leadership role with this team?
Miles: I definitely can help in that role. I feel like between Andy and Gibb – who played on the playoff teams just a couple years ago – and then myself, we know the things you have to do and how you prepare to be a team that’s that good.

And I think we have to be able to do that to set those habits of guys, every day, coming in and working hard and continuing to improve. Because that’s when you get to the point where the work translates into the game.

One of the people who taught me a lot – without even saying anything – was Derek Fisher.

My second year in the league, when he played for us in Utah, he wasn’t one of those guys who yelled at you or got in your face. He spoke when he had to. He was one of the older guys on the team, but he was in the gym first. He was in the gym at night. He did everything he needed to do to prepare for the game.

MilesAnd I feel like that’s the way it starts. You don’t have to yell at people. Sometimes you have to talk to guys about things. But I think the big thing is coming in and just working, because then it turns into a competition thing. Guys don’t want to be out-worked.

What made coming to Cleveland and the Cavaliers so attractive to you as a free agent?
Miles: One of the things was being with a young team and being able to be what I wanted to be as a player – as far as being able to continue to grow. And be with a team that’s growing.

And at the same time, being able to step in and help out – as far as the leadership role and the experience that I have. We talked about how the team is. Kyrie’s 20, Samardo’s 22. I’m only two, three years older than those guys. Sometimes you bring in an older veteran and they come in and they don’t really link. They don’t really think the same way. So I think there’s a comfort level as far as Andy, Gibb and Luke Walton.

And talking with Coach Scott – we had a couple really good, long conversations. And we talked about basketball. He didn’t try to sell me or anything. He just told me, ‘You’ll be put in a position to do the things you do well to help our basketball team. And we’re going to be something special.’

And I believed that was true, because I’ve seen the guys on the team.

Those were the things that made it so attractive. To come in an up-tempo style – which suits me better, basketball-wise, playing for a good coach that’s going to bring the best out of you. Great young point guard, talented young bigs.

All the pieces are here. If we can put them together, we can really do something great.

Any thoughts on your first experience in the Eastern Conference?
Miles: (laughs) The flights are a lot shorter.

You’ll be sharing the two-guard spot with rookie Dion Waiters. After working with – and playing against – him, what are your early impressions?
Miles: We got a chance to work out together for a week in L.A. Right after I signed, I worked out a week here and then we went out to L.A. – a few of us guys; me, Tristan, Dion, Kelenna and a couple coaches. We stayed out there for five, six days and played some pick-up games after working out in the morning.

I didn’t get to see him play that much in college; there aren’t too many Syracuse games on TV in Utah. But he can definitely play. He puts the ball on the floor and creates his shot very well. He’s a better passer than people think. And he’s going to be a great addition to the team.

From just working with this team for a few weeks, how good do you think it can be? Can it get back to the postseason?
Miles: I definitely think we’re a playoff team – just based on the fact that the guys that are here are a year older, plus some of the new guys.

I’m not saying it’s going to be the smoothest transition ever. And – with the young guys and the new faces – it’s going to take some time to figure each other out. But I definitely think we have the talent to be a playoff team. And it goes back to coming in every day and competing and working hard every day. We’re young and we can get up and down the floor. And after “Camp Scott” the conditioning won’t be a problem!

But as long as everyone has one common goal and is willing to come in and do the work, we’ll be fine. That’s the vibe you get from everyone around here. Guys want to play basketball and win games.