Hornets Pleased, Surprised to Land Miller in Round 2
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer

Darius Miller

July 2, 2012

For many college players, the biggest adjustment of leaving school and coming to the NBA is that they’re no longer deemed a star. Virtually every NBA draft pick was ultra-successful in college, but when a prospect enters the league, he nearly always must accept a smaller role, leaving his ego on campus.

Fortunately for Kentucky four-year player Darius Miller, sacrificing personal goals and individual accolades for the betterment of the team won’t be anything new. While many players consider transferring or leaving school if their minutes and shot attempts don’t increase with each passing season, Miller actually played considerably less as a senior than he had as a junior. He wasn’t complaining about the results though – Kentucky won a national championship, with Miller serving as a sixth-man catalyst.

At least a handful of NBA teams, including the New Orleans Hornets, recognized the 6-foot-8 forward’s contributions by listing him as a first-round prospect entering the June 28 draft. That’s why the Hornets’ front office was thrilled to see the career 37.8 percent three-point shooter still on the board when they selected at No. 46 overall.

“We didn’t expect that,” Hornets general manager Dell Demps said of having the opportunity to pick Miller. “We think he’s a good player. He can shoot the ball. The one thing about him is that his role in college will be very similar to the NBA. He’s not the superstar. I want to see him fit in, get into the system.”

“We were very fortunate,” assistant GM Tim Connelly said. “I know there were teams who had him on their board in the first round.

“He’s a selfless player, very tough, with a maturity that you generally don’t see in college players. He was the glue guy for the best team in college basketball. He was a big-shot maker, loves the moment, and has great positional size. He can play a couple positions and is versatile.”

Miller, who is expected to report to New Orleans by next week – when the Hornets’ summer-league team makes its final preparations to play in Las Vegas – is generally considered a small forward. However, he has the perimeter range to move to shooting guard, with the sturdy frame to slide to power forward.

“I think he could become a really good spot-up shooter,” assessed Connelly, who joined NOLA’s basketball operations staff in watching the Wildcats play countless times last winter and spring. “He can spread the court. He’s surprisingly athletic and is sneaky bouncy. He’s a big, strong guy. He’s also very smart and is a great teammate. What he does surprisingly well is he’s able to use his size and establish his post game. He’s just a solid all-around player.”

New Orleans may have also been the most ideal NBA destination for Miller. Not only is the Crescent City where Miller capped his four-year college career with a national championship, but he also will have a familiar teammate in No. 1 pick Anthony Davis. For many second-round picks, just making the roster of an established team is a daunting task, but the Hornets entered July with only six veteran players under contract.

At this early stage, it’s impossible to predict what Miller’s role will be as a rookie, but the Hornets were impressed with the player’s willingness to sacrifice for the Wildcats. After starting 37 of 38 games as a junior, Miller was a first-stringer just 11 times in 40 games last season. He averaged 9.9 points.

“Their goal was to win,” Connelly summarized of star-studded Kentucky. “They had six guys drafted. They could’ve all started on almost any team in college basketball. That really speaks to those guys, Coach (John) Calipari and the staff down there. They were able to amass that amount of talent, but maintain the team-first and winning-first approach. It paid off in team success and individual success. We talk about it all the time, that if you win, everybody wins. It clearly didn’t hurt Darius (in terms of his draft stock).

“All of the background (research) we did on Darius was not good, it was great. To add a guy like that who has that type of approach was fantastic. And Anthony was just as excited as anybody. That speaks to what type of teammate Darius is.”

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