Though in-state reports have billed the battle for Jai Miller, considered one of the top athletes in Alabama and the #45 receiver in the nation, a fight between Alabama and Auburn, the real war has been waged between Stanford and Alabama. Though Auburn made some splash with their official visit they hosted earlier this month, and then the in-home visit head coach Tommy Tuberville just this Monday, they have consistently played from a position of weakness relative to their in-state rivals. One significant aspect of that trailing role is that Miller's grandparents, who have raised him as mother and father, favor the Crimson Tide.
So the battle has mostly carried between the local school, where Miller's grandparents can watch him play throughout the year in both football and basketball, and the most distant of schools, where he recognizes a truly unique educational opportunity. That stakes were raised in this game just last weekend, when the coveted two-sport recruit took his much-anticipated official visit to Tuscaloosa to see Alabama. Though he has been there before and is familiar with the school, the new coaching staff led by former Washington State head man Mike Price, is largely unfamiliar to him.
"They presented a good case," Miller says of the weekend visit. "I really enjoyed the visit. In particular, I enjoyed meeting all the coaches - seeing what they want to do at Alabama. That's something I really needed to do. My most important questions going into the trip were the coaches, how I fit in socially and would I be comfortable there. They scored with A's in all categories. I felt comfortable with the players and the coaching staff."
That reads like an obituary for Cardinalmaniacs™, but residents in the South would expect nothing less to come from a recruit's mouth after such an official visit. Those weekends are done big by SEC schools, and they rarely go wrong. Add to that the "newness" that this staff offers to Miller, and the talk of their wide open passing offense they are selling to him. The Tide look to be in a position of great strength today, and they likely have the best chance to land Jai Miller in this soon-to-be-concluded recruitment.
So is Alabama now in the lead for the prized recruit? "No, I wouldn't say that," he responds. "It's hard to say right after leaving [Alabama]. I still have to clear my head and make an objective decision."
That decision is likely to be made at the end of this week, according to Miller, though he will wait and announce that outcome next Monday at a press conference at his high school. Stanford gets one last big push tonight, when Buddy Teevens comes into the home for his visit with Jai and his family. Alabama and Auburn have already made their appearances, so the Cardinal are hoping to leave the last and strongest impression.
Also remember the basketball side of the equation, given that Miller is a highly-touted combo guard who has at least as much passion for the roundball as he does for the pigskin. This is an area where Stanford and Alabama have really pulled ahead of Auburn, given that the Tigers basketball staff went radio silent with Miller for a long time. They got in contact again this month and told him they were not contacting any recruits, but that's a load of bunk. The two-sport recruit has told The Bootleg throughout his recruitment that he has sensed that Auburn basketball has carried only a passing and perhaps compulsory interest in him to aid their football recruiting effort. Auburn's NCAA investigations into their basketball program have concerned Miller all along, as well. Their sudden interest so late in him comes off disingenuous, and I would be shocked if they can patch up the longstanding chasm they created. No, Stanford and Bama have been the two schools have given Miller serious love for basketball for many months, though most recently he has said that now the Cardinal staff appear to have taken the lead in their basketball recruitment, ahead of the Crimson Tide.
How badly does Stanford basketball want Miller? Enough that they have told Jai and his grandparents that Stanford basketball would bring the Selma senior to The Farm on a full hoops scholarship if he wanted to boot football. Now, this is not to say in any way that they are discouraging the young man from playing football. But they have an extra ride available currently for the 2003 class after the fall signing period, and they are very high on what this kid can do on the floor. I was there in Vegas watching Miller and his Alabama Ice team play when I saw the Stanford hoops coaches check him out. Miller has told me about the coaches coming out this winter to watch him play on the hardwood.
They clearly feel he can play at a high level, and there is also additional reason to believe his abilities may be needed more than the average Stanford fan suspects. If sophomore point guard Chris Hernandez does not find that the fifth metatarsal in his left foot heals completely (and shades of the Curtis Borchardt saga come to mind), then the Cardinal find themselves a little short on ballhandlers on their roster. Miller could join fellow 6'4" combo guard Tim Morris in this class and add some very important depth in the backcourt. The Alabama guard may be more than a luxury, his abilities may become a necessity.
Speaking of basketball, Selma is enjoying a strong season thus far, though Miller is playing in an awkward role for his high school team. Though he plays at the point or shooting guard positions during summer AAU games, and he will also be a 1- or 2-guard in college, he plays mostly at the "four" spot as a rebounding forward for his team. As is all too common, a team lacking any height has to promote a 6'4" player to the frontcourt, playing well out of position. Nevertheless, Miller is a team player and does whatever his coach asks of him. And he is able to average 19 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and four steals per game - despite far less touches than he would receive were he to play in the backcourt.
At last check Miller and his Selma team were second in their region, and making a hard push to reach the playoffs.
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