Millers making most of being reunited
After nine years of playing apart, Coco and Kelly enjoying being teammates again
Georgia Lady Bulldogs coach Andy Landers really had just one problem with the Miller twins at practices during their college days. Let's just say it: They were sneaks.
Nah, Kelly and Coco Miller never tried to get a breather by surreptitiously "hiding" during a workout. Just the opposite. If told they needed to sit out and rest for a second they instantly forgot that instruction.
"When they were at Georgia, they hated not being in a drill," Landers said. "If they had to cheat their way into it, cut in line in front of somebody to do it, they would.
"The people I talk to around the WNBA, they say effort is obviously key to anybody's success. That's the piece of the puzzle that challenges all the coaches in regard to players. But those two kids? I'd be shocked if anybody told me they'd ever taken a day off.
"I had dinner with their mom and dad last year, and they were telling me about all the running and biking Kelly and Coco do, and the room set up with all their weights."
Then Landers asks, "You know what they want to do when basketball is over? Bet you can guess."
Uh climb all the world's highest mountains? First going forward, then backward?
"They want to do marathons, that's what their mom told me," Landers said. "Are you surprised?"
Not in the slightest. And if there's any way the Millers can help the Atlanta Dream turn this WNBA Finals into a "marathon," they will. That's what the Dream need now, for the series to go the distance with them winning the remaining three games. That would give Coco her first WNBA title, while it would be a second for Kelly, who won one in 2007 with Phoenix.
Atlanta fell to Seattle in the first two games of the Finals by a combined five points. Coco Miller, who has been starting throughout the postseason, still feels optimistic about Thursday's Game 3 (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET) at Philips Arena.
"I felt like defensively we played well," she said after the Dream's 87-84 loss Tuesday. "Offensively, we had a few lapses, made some bad decisions. But hopefully, we'll clear that up. Seattle's a tough place to play. They're undefeated at home for a reason. We're right there -- we've just got to play at home the way we can, and have our crowd behind us."
"Home" is what Georgia became to the Millers in 1997, when the Minnesota high school standouts went South to join Landers' storied program. They advanced to the Final Four as sophomores in 1999.
Both were WNBA first-round draft picks in 2001, with Kelly going second overall (behind Seattle's Lauren Jackson) to Charlotte, and Coco going ninth to Washington. They had to adjust to separation for the first time, and being apart was something they learned only to tolerate but never actually "like." They endured it because they had to do it in order to play in the WNBA.
They've competed together sometimes when they could in Europe, but it usually isn't easy finding a team that needs two similarly skilled guards. Finally this season, they've ended up on a WNBA team that had a need for both.
This is Coco's second season in Atlanta, Kelly's first. Having turned 32 on Sept. 6, they are the oldest players for the Dream. But they don't look all that much different than they did when they left Athens, Ga., for pro ball, and they're still as fit as ever. More so, in fact.
"I don't know who in the league would be better conditioned," Landers said. "They hold each other to a high standard as friends and as sisters."
And this season, as teammates again.
"I think being apart made us realize how nice it is to be together," Kelly said. "This summer, we've taken it all in and know how special it is that we get to play together. We definitely appreciate each other more."
Which is saying something. As close as the two always seemed before their pro days, there didn't appear to be any lack of appreciation then.
"Yeah, that's true. But it's still nice to be together again," Kelly said. "And being back in Georgia has been great."
Coco agreed: "We have come full circle. I couldn't have asked for anything more, really. It's a dream come true. We've always wanted to play together in the league. And this is our 10th season, so fortunately, everything worked out in Atlanta. I've been missing the connection we have on court for the last nine years. For me, it makes it much more fun to play like that."
Kelly got more court time during this regular season, averaging 16.4 minutes to Coco's 7.3. But Kelly was injured Aug. 10 against the Storm, when someone fell into her and her leg got twisted awkwardly, resulting in a high ankle sprain. She wasn't able to return to action until Game 1 of the Finals, in which she played seven minutes.
Kelly was in for three minutes in Game 2, while Coco played for 30, nearly Velcro-ing herself defensively to Seattle's Sue Bird.
"They love to compete at the highest level, in big games with big circumstances," Landers said. "Add another thing to that: against big-time players. Going against someone like Bird -- I knew that would bring out the best in Coco."
This whole postseason has been like that for Coco, who never got discouraged by all the bench time she had to deal with in the regular season.
"They will never give up, period," Landers said. "And when they might be sitting on the bench, they believe they are going into the game, and they are going to be ready for it. I know them well: Any opportunity they're going to get, they'll capitalize on it. And the other thing they've got going for them: You, me nor anyone else has ever seen them play anything less than full-out."
Landers has a recruit visiting the Georgia campus, so he won't be able to make it to Thursday's game. If the series extends to a Game 4 on Sunday, however, he should be able to attend.
He keeps track of all his former players in the WNBA, and has been very pleased to see the Miller twins together in the Finals. He's not surprised they're at this level.
"The way others evaluate them really means absolutely nothing to either one of them," he said. "I've always said their confidence must have a coat of armor on it, because you can't put a dent in it.
"Coco playing the way she is now [in the playoffs] -- that's not because she's thinking, 'I'm going to show you something' after she didn't play as much during the [regular] season. That's just her saying, 'This is who I always am.' That's who she was every day at Georgia. So was Kelly."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at voepel.wordpress.com.
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