- Antonio Williams, Basketball Recruiting
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The high school basketball universe magically centered in Rochester, N.Y., almost two years ago to the day when a little-known varsity basketball team manager at Greece-Athena High School saw his first game action of the year in the last home game of the season for his team. Jason McElwain, who battles autism, stole national headlines in his jaw-dropping debut when he erupted for 20 points in four minutes, included six made 3-pointers.
Fast forward to the present and another Rochester native is setting the region ablaze with his on-court basketball exploits. 6-7 SF Dane Miller, a 2009 prospect, has led his Rush-Henrietta team to a great start this season, using his on-court exploits to fuel his team's early success.
Miller, who averages 21 points, 17 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 blocks, and Rush-Henrietta will be tested in front of a national audience against Fairport (N.Y.) tonight (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN360.com presented by Frontier).
He takes great pride in having his teammates share in his success, as made evident by his impressive passing skills. For a player who spends a great deal of time on the interior, he also handles the ball very well. Miller also has good leaping ability and long arms, which makes him a good rebounder. Given his ball-handling skills, passing ability, and good quickness, Miller plays very well in the high-post area.
When asked what he needs to improve on the most he said, "My jump shot and increasing my range. I also need to work on getting stronger."
In an area that does not typically produce high-major talent in basketball, Miller has managed to garner attention from a number of high-major college basketball programs. Though always a standout, Miller's recruitment started to really gain steam this past summer due in large part to his excellent play on the summer AAU circuit. Though not remotely close to a final decision, Rutgers presently leads the race for his services with other schools such as Cincinnati, Providence and Xavier also on his radar. He also mentioned many other top-level programs have expressed interest in him, so his final decision will not come anytime soon.
Miller has managed to keep a level head despite the dramatic increase in popularity and visibility, crediting his mother and high school coach for keeping him grounded, a sometimes challenging task given the amount of attention that Miller has brought to a relatively small city that does not produce a high number of big-time basketball prospects. Overall, he seems to have a healthy perspective on all of the notoriety.
"It's fun that everybody knows me, but I think they get a little more excited than I do," he said. "I like the attention, but I just like to keep a level head and focus on winning games with my team."
About 16 years ago, another highly-regarded interior prospect by the name of John Wallace captured Rochester's collective attention by leading Greece-Athena to an undefeated season and a state championship, garnering many Derrick Coleman comparisons along the way. Wallace would follow in Coleman's footsteps by attending Syracuse and leading the Orange on an improbable run that resulted in his team playing in the NCAA Championship game, which Coleman also did while playing at Syracuse. Wallace also went on to become a first-round pick and enjoyed time in the NBA.
Rush-Henrietta coach Chris Reed remembers Wallace's extraordinary high school performances and thinks Miller shares some of the same traits that made Wallace so dominant.
"His body and frame looks very similar to John Wallace's at the same stage. I'm not saying that Dane is going to be as good as John Wallace, but he has the same length and tools that Wallace had at this point in his career."
Reed noted Miller has excellent passing skills and vision for a big man. Reed has sometimes had to remind Miller to shoot the ball more because Miller has the tendency to become to unselfish at times. These passing skills will make Miller's transition much easier to the next level as he will keep his more experienced teammates happy by rewarding them with the ball.
Reed also said Miller's length, body control, quickness and instincts for the game have developed well beyond his young age. He believes Miller has to improve his outside shooting and gain more strength and muscle for the next level. Praising Miller's work ethic and passion for the game, Reed has no doubt that Miller will improve his game and develop for major college basketball.
"The increased attention has made him into a better player and person. He has become more mature," Reed said. "Instead of the publicity affecting him negatively, he now realizes that everything he does, good or bad, will be magnified. He deals with adversity on the court much better now that he understands this."
Miller listed Reed as one of his calming influences, which Reed said he works to do for Miller and the rest of the team. According to Reed, while everyone else focuses on Miller and what college he will attend in the fall of 2009, Reed continues to keep his star focused on the present and winning at Rush-Henrietta. Miller remains dedicated to winning a championship in high school and maintaining solid grades as opposed placing his future college career ahead of his present team.
Reed's team has responded favorably to the increased attention Miller has brought to the program, and the coach says none of the players have a problem with Miller's success because they have grown accustomed to the attention. Most of the players on the team either have known and/or played with Miller for a number of years now. In fact, Miller's notoriety has had a positive affect for his teammates.
"With Miller playing for us, we now have big-time college programs from as far away as Nebraska attending our open gyms, which provides a chance for other players on our team to display their talent and possibly get a chance to play in college," Reed said. "It's great for our program and for this area to have this type of attention."
Both Miller and Reed hope that the talented player and his team can embark on an amazing, successful journey while bringing the same attention to Rochester that John Wallace did almost 20 years ago.
Antonio Williams is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. He previously worked as an NBA scout for Marty Blake Associates.