Emerging Two-Sport Recruit from Alabama

Jai Miller has gotten little discussion on the West Coast, even from rookie recruitniks following Stanford's prospects this year. While that is understandable given that Jai is a bigtime Alabama prospect, his story is one worth telling again and again. After all, he has an offer from Stanford and is being hotly recruited for football and basketball right now...

WR & PG Jai Miller (profile)
Selma HS (Selma, AL)
Ht: 6-4  Wt: 195
bball: 18 ppg, 6 rpg, 5 apg, 3 spg

I went to Las Vegas hoping to get a look at Jai Miller, the much-touted three sport phenom from Selma, Alabama.  I wanted the chance to see if he had Pac-10 level hoops abilities, but also to talk with him about his recruitment, which appeared to have Stanford as a darkhorse against the local SEC powers.  I was surprised with what I learned on both counts.

As far as his basketball, Jai played for the Alabama Ice, which was one of the better teams in the entire Big Time field.  It doesn't hurt having Travis Outlaw in the post, one of the most elite players in the Southeast, if not the country.  But Jai really made the team go, playing at both the point and shooting guard slots.  His scoring was sporadic and came in bunches, but what caught my attention was his ability to create his shot and take defenders off the dribble.  Jai is a good slasher and glider, especially at his 6'4" height.  The Ice had a quicker and smaller guard who came in to play point and move Jai to the off-guard, which presented a different scoring threat to the opposition.

"I would have liked to have done a little more scoring," says Miller, "but I needed to keep everyone on the same page.  I think I played well, just making the team go."

   

I did wonder, watching Jai, if that quick first step would be able to get past the quick point guards we see every year in the Pac-10, and so I put that question to his high school coach, Willie Maxey.  The answer was emphatic.  "In my 25 years of coaching basketball, I have never seen someone with a first step quicker than Jai Miller."  It is also noteworthy that Jai plays on a small Selma team, and often plays out on the wing or down in the post - Coach Maxey uses him all over the floor.  But to Jai's detriment, he does not get the chance to work full-time on his point guard skills.  The good news is that with more time and focus ahead on that position, what we see today may just be scratching the surface of his abilities.  Though it is notable that the folks in his home state thought highly enough to nominate him for Mr. Basketball in Alabama his junior year.

Stanford basketball must have seen something they liked a lot about Jai in Vegas, because they have turned up the pressure in their involvement in Stanford's recruitment since then.  Russell Turner talked with Jai just recently, and Jai said that Russell talked to him about how Mike Montgomery "really liked what [he] saw" in the few games he got to watch of the Ice.

The part that surprised me about Jai's recruitment was what Jai's AAU coach, Kenneth Harris, told me in Vegas before a game.  He said that Jai had just had a long conversation talking with David Kelly, which really impacted him.  Kenneth and Jai talked in their hotel room the Sunday night before the tournament began in Vegas.  It was a long heart-to-heart talk about Jai's options and their values to him.  According to Coach Harris, their conclusion was that Stanford presented an incredible and unique opportunity that he would have a hard time passing up.  In Harris' words, "Stanford is right there at the top as a leader."

I have followed up and just talked with Jai this past week to get his most recent recruiting outlook, and he says that he is mostly talking with Stanford and Alabama right now.  He also said those would be his two co-leaders at this point, with neither distinguishably ahead of the other.  This is big news, given that a hot and heavy local pressured favorite in Auburn is trailing Stanford.  Other big players include LSU and Georgia Tech, according to Jai.

   

Moving on to football, Jai is just getting cranked up for the coming season.  Selma's first game is just a week away, as they open against their top rivals, Southside.  Jai said last year's loss was a "heartbreaker," and a lot of preparation and emotion is invested in this year's opener.  A win or loss could dramatically affect the team's psyche and outlook for the season.  Jai has been the Selma quarterback the last two seasons, which also meant that he threw to receiver Ben Obomanu, who recruitnik Booties will remember as a late football recruiting target last winter.  But Miller is unsure if he will be throwing or catching this year.  The team might best need and use him at QB, but he says WR is more attractive if he gets his shot.

"It's just so much fun to get out there, and the last time I was at receiver was the 8th grade.  It's just fun."

Jai also cites a weak offensive line that made him scramble more often than he would like to remember last season, and that could be the case against this year.  No dummy, Jai likes the idea of running around the field loose, with someone else scrambling to get him the ball and taking all the big hits.

"That part was not fun last year."

Regardless of his position, Jai has goals for self-improvement this senior season.  He wants to get faster ("that's something I've always wanted to do"), and if he does play receiver, learn how to really run good routes.  Though Miller does think his experience at quarterback could help at receiver, given that he knows from being on the other end of a pass where you should be at all times for a successful completion.

I did not talk with Jai much about his baseball, but do know that he hit .430 last year (.760 slugging) and have been told that several people in the South feel that baseball might be Jai's most talented sport.  I have not heard any rumblings about pro baseball right away, though, likely with Jai's love for basketball and football.

The fit for a QB-turned-WR makes a lot of sense at Stanford, both recently and going forward.  Half of the Cardinal's current receiving star power comes from former high school quarterbacks, including Teyo Johnson, Luke Powell, Ryan Wells and Nick Sebes.  On top of that, receivers coach David Kelly has shown his own demonstrated excellence in bringing other position athletes to receiving prominence.  Of his top four receivers last year at Georgia Tech, three were switched there from other high school positions.

But it is the multi-sport fit for Jai Miller that helps to make Stanford so intriguing.  He cites the existence and success of Teyo Johnson at Stanford, in football and basketball, as the blueprint for his own college plans.

"I know that it can be done at Stanford because of Teyo Johnson.  I just don't know if it can be done at Alabama or Auburn.  They say it can, but I don't know it."

   

The Stanford football and basketball staffs are furthermore capitalizing on Teyo's successes, and talking to Jai about just that.  Jai said that he talked just a week ago to both Buddy Teevens and David Kelly, and they both talked hoops.  Buddy specifically talked about what Teyo is doing right now at Stanford and how he as the head football coach supports and promotes the dual role for Teyo.  Jai said that David Kelly has taken it a step further in describing the precise work and practice schedule that Jai would use in his first fall, sharing time between the two teams.  The two coaches are putting together a very concrete demonstration of how Jai can do both sports at Stanford, and he likes it.

"Stanford would just love for me to come out there and play both sports.  Alabama seems like they are more so just for basketball."

Also of note, Buddy Teevens is apparently pushing the virtues of the passing styles in his new offense at Stanford.  Jai said that Buddy talked to him about putting the ball in the air, where Stanford receivers will be able to "put up big numbers."

"He likens the offense to what he had at Florida and what we are seeing in the pre-season with the Redskins.  My face just lit up when he said that."

One note of realism here is that coming in to play both basketball and football at Stanford will not be a piece of cake for Jai Miller.  When he arrives in the fall of 2003, he will find himself in either his first or just second year of learning how to be a wide receiver for football, on top of attempting to be a lead guard and pick up Mike Montgomery's offense for basketball.  That is a lot to learn in either sport individually, to say nothing of the combined demands.  And not to take anything away from Teyo, but I think there is something a little easier about playing both sports as a post player for basketball rather than a guard.  There is a serious mental component to the post game at Stanford, but there is a little less complexity that one has to grasp.  You often receive the offense rather than having to set it up and run it, as is the case for a point guard.  I see Jai Miller and don't worry too much about the physical demands, but instead offer up that the mental discipline will be his greatest test as he tries to play both sports.  If he misses a couple of the basketball practices each week during the fall, while football exerts its demands, then Jai will have to show the desire and work ethic to come to the basketball office in off-hours and watch film of practices with the coaches.  He will need the drive to put in the extra hours studying the plays of the offense and committing them to memory.  Teyo Johnson is someone who has enjoyed the level of success he has in basketball largely because his mind is like a steel trap - remembering the Stanford hoops offense with excellent precision despite the time lost on the football field.

The good news is that Jai Miller is a very bright kid, who is very confident and very driven.  Mike Montgomery is a very straight shooter when it comes to basketball recruiting, and he would not be putting in the effort to bring Jai Miller to Stanford unless he thought Jai could do this and do it well.  Unlike many other programs in the country, Monty won't blow sunshine at a recruit for the benefit of football.  Monty liked what he saw in Vegas enough that he's really going at this.

Another piece of good news about making this work is that I forecast Jai Miller to redshirt in football his first season at Stanford.  This is in no way a statement on his abilities on the gridiron, but instead a reflection of his experience.  His high school coach at Selma is still deciding whether to play Jai at quarterback or receiver this fall.  Should Jai stay at QB, he would come to Stanford and David Kelly completely green.  Even should Jai get some work at receiver in his final high school season, he still would come in very raw.  I would be surprised if he and the Stanford staff would not come to a mutual agreement that his best four years of football could be achieved with a first year of redshirting.  Given that redshirt, he would likely have some more slack in October, November and December to make those pivotal early-season hoops practices, just as Teyo Johnson did in the fall of 2000.

The chances for Jai Miller to follow in Teyo's footsteps are real, and his talents in both sports are every bit as .  The recruitment Stanford is doing with Jai thus far is surprisingly effective, and the two parties appear to be well along in a strong relationship.  That official visit Jai will take at some point could likely be the deciding factor, though.  Jai needs to feel at ease on the campus, with the coaches and with both sets of teammates.  He also needs to hear from Teyo Johnson some personal assurances that Jai can pull this off.  That is a serious laundry list to check off during his visit, and the Stanford staffs will have their hands full making sure he comes through smiling from ear to ear.

Overall, Jai likes a lot of what he is hearing about and from Stanford.  "A degree from Stanford - you just can't beat that."  Though he does think he has gotten to a point where he thinks he has asked a lot of questions and gotten just about all of his answers.  All that he can without seeing and experiencing the campus, that is. 

As a final note, I have seen a notation on the Internet that lists Jai to take his official visit to Stanford on September 1st.  I asked him about that, and he said that was all news to him.  "That is just bad info on the Internet," he replied.

Got it, Jai.  We'll keep up with Jai and let you know when that visit is set, which will be the determining point in his recruitment.


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