Darius Miller's improving play: PART ONE

"It's defense. There are so many good players, you have to play good defense all the time," said Miller, a Kentucky sophomore. "That will help me a lot next season."

Darius Miller has no trouble identifying the most improved part of his play during his time with the United States in the FIBA U19 World Championship Auckland, New Zealand.

"It's defense. There are so many good players, you have to play good defense all the time," said Miller, a Kentucky sophomore. "That will help me a lot next season."

Miller's versatility has been his calling card during the USA's six games going into the quarterfinal showdown against Canada (at 4:30 a.m. Friday EST). He has a team-high 10 blocked shots and his 10 steals are also tied for the team lead. Additionally, he's averaging 5.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game while shooting 60.9 percent (14-for-23) from the field.

Purdue coach Matt Painter, who is assisting head coach Jamie Dixon of Pittsburgh with the team, has been impressed by Miller's play.

"He is loading up the stat sheets. He is able to guard bigger guys and smaller guys. That versatility has really stood out," Painter said. "He has kind of given us a needed shot in the arm a couple of different times with his ability to block shots, make steals or create a hustle play. He's been pretty clutch for us."

Miller was not known for his shot blocking prowess at UK last year, but he's convinced Painter he can be a big-time shot blocker. "He has blocked shots of the guy he is guarding, but he has also made blocks in transition and come over from the weak side to block shots. He's been very impressive and has really helped us. Sometimes just making a block, getting a steal or making a hustle play and can be contagious for a team and he's given us that," Painter said.

Miller, who had 10 points in the win over Lithuania earlier this week, still insists he's happy to fill whatever role is needed. "The game with Lithuania we just needed some scoring. But we have a lot of scorers on this team. We do not all need to score. Sometimes a guy has an off night and then he might have a good game. It was just the way the game went when I had to score more," Miller said. "That could be a preview of what our season at UK will be like because we are going to have a lot of scorers and depth, too."

Painter says Miller has willing sacrificed to blend into whatever role the team has needed. "It's tough to share minutes and not be in a rotation type thing, but we are playing them all every game," Painter said. "Darius has a great attitude and has really worked hard. He has given us a different look with his ability to play different positions. That versatility has really helped us and been a problem for the European teams.


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