Saturday, March 3, 2007

Senior Day finally here for UNC's Miller

North Carolina guard Wes Miller was a little-used reserve as a sophomore on an NCAA championship team.

He was a starter and the leading 3-point shooter as a junior on a team that was bounced from the NCAA tournament in the second round by George Mason.

Which was the more rewarding experience? Miller said people ask him all the time.

He can’t choose one over the other.

“They were both just amazingly special for me in different ways,” Miller said. “Last year, starting and playing such an integral role on our team and helping us win ballgames, that was satisfying beyond belief.

“Being part of the national championship team, just saying that I was a part of that, that I helped that team practice, that I was on the bench and celebrating with my teammates, it’s a feeling I can’t describe in words, and it’s feelings that I will always cherish for the rest of my life.”

Miller, a Charlotte native who is one of the most inspiring stories in the ACC, will play his final home game at 4 p.m. Sunday against Duke. After spending his freshman season at James Madison, Miller transferred as a walk-on to North Carolina.

His job as a sophomore was to harass starting point guard Raymond Felton throughout practice. Miller watched from the bench as Felton made the clinching free throws in a 75-70 defeat of Illinois in the NCAA title game.

With Felton, Sean May, Rashad McCants, Jawad Williams and Marvin Williams gone the next season, Miller started 16 of 31 games and shot 64-for-145 (44.1 percent) from 3-point range.

He made three 3-pointers in a December win at Kentucky and scored a career-high 18 points – all on 3-pointers – in his first start at Florida State.

“The Kentucky game, at Kentucky, I felt like was probably the biggest turning point in my career as a player,” Miller said. “I just felt like I gained so much confidence through a couple of shots, in one game.”

There had been doubts about whether Miller would ever make an impact as a 5-foot-11 walk-on. But his freakish workout regimen turned him into an important performer on a team that finished second in the ACC.

“(He is) mentally as tough and physically as devoted as any player I’ve ever had,” said coach Roy Williams.

Miller and North Carolina don’t come to Senior Day on a high. The Tar Heels (24-6, 10-5 ACC) have lost three of their last five games. A talented group of freshmen and sophomores have relegated Miller to a reserve role more significant than in 2004-05 but less prominent than last season.

His 3-point percentage has slumped to .314 (22-for-70).

“It’s been challenging at times, but my whole career has been challenging at times,” Miller said. “It’s not always supposed to be easy. But that only makes it more satisfying at the end, that you persevere. It’s hard to say about this year yet, because it’s not over yet.”
– Ken Tysiac