He's not made the team quite yet, but Kentucky senior Darius Miller is one step closer to playing on a team representing the United States for the second time.
USA Basketball Sunday announced that Miller of one of 14 players among the 20 invited to training camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., that had been named a finalist by the USA Basketball junior national team committee for the 12-player USA World University Games team. The final 12-player roster will be announced prior to Aug. 8 when the team departs for China.
"It's really a big deal to have a chance to represent your country," said Miller in a telephone interview after the finalists were named. "I really hope I can make the 12-man roster. Knowing I?have been through this before, that does help me. ?Hopefully that experience will push me and get on the final 12. I think I?have a pretty good chance, but everybody here is a good player. It's going to be a tough decision for the coaches."
Miller, a starter on UK's Final Four team last season, was on the U.S. under 19 team that won a gold medal in 2009. He had a team-high 14 steals and 12 blocked shots, averaged 5.0 points and 3.1 rebounds per game, and shot 63 percent from the field. Last season at UK?he averaged 10.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game with 32 steals and 43 blocked shots in 38 games. He shot 44.2 percent from 3-point range.
"I have to kind of do the same things for this team that I did at Kentucky to make the 12-man roster," Miller said. "I have to show a lot of energy, play good defense and do what we need on offense."
Miller, who has scored 851 points in 112 games at UK, used his Team USA performance two years ago to jump start his career at UK and hopes a strong performance the next month with this team could set the stage for a big senior year for him.
"That's exactly what I?am hoping," Miller said. "It was a great experience before. You can pick up things from other great players and coaches to help your game. It's good to face different competition even though I?have great guys to work out with at UK. We have a lot of different personalities and talent here. There are so many guys to pick stuff up from and a lot of coaches to help you, too. The more you can learn, the better you will be and there are a lot of people here I can learn things from."
Coach Matt Painter of Purdue certainly seems to agree.
"I think it's a great group," Painter, an assistant on the team Miller helped win the gold medal two years ago, said. "We have a lot of balance. I think on the interior we have some shot-blockers, we have some athletes, guys that can really go and get the basketball and some real good shooters. We have some good, interchangeable parts."
The 14 finalists include JaMychal Green of Alabama, John Jenkins of Vanderbilt, Shabazz Napier of Connecticut and Tim Abromaitis of Notre Dame, all players Miller has competed again. Other notable players are Ashton Gibbs of Pittsburgh, Draymond Green of Michigan State and Scoop Jardine of Syracuse. Gibbs was also on the 2009 team with Miller that went 9-0 in international competition.
"I just spent a lot of time in the weight room and gym getting ready for this. It was pretty much the same things as always," Miller said. "Now we will be working out with two-a-day practices here until the final roster is set and we leave for China."
The U.S. team will play an exhibition game Aug. 11 in China before starting World University Games play Aug. 13. USA will play in a pool with Finland, Hungary, Israel, Mexico and South Korea with the first game Aug. 13 against Mexico. Quarterfinal play starts Aug. 20 with the top two teams in each pool advancing to that competition. The final will be played Aug. 22.
That means if the U.S. reaches the final and Miller is on the team, he will be gone from Kentucky for almost a month.
"That's not really hard. I had fun with it two years ago," Miller said. "It's fun being with a lot of great players and you experience so many new things that you really don't mind being gone.
"We had a pretty good team two years ago, too. I don't know how that will pan out yet this year, but I feel I am a much better player now. I think I will probably have to play of lot of different positions for this team again depending on who is in the game. That is what I?did last time (two years ago) and I am more than willing to do that again if I make the final team."
Thoughts from Darius on Team USA tryout
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