How Nate Miles became a casualty in everyone else’s war.
by Nick Piotrowicz | @Nick_Piotrowicz
In the two-horse race that is the 2011 Naismith College Player of the Year Award, one half of the argument is for UConn’s do-everything point guard, Kemba Walker. Walker has electrified even casual basketball observers with his alpha-dog command of his team, his superb body control and handles that have made him an instant SportsCenter legend.
Lost in the hype, though, is that Walker wasn’t even the most coveted recruit in his freshman dorm room. That honor would belong to his roommate, Nate Miles, whose highly-publicized expulsion from UConn and ostracism from the big-time college basketball world is keeping him in the same place he started: Toledo, Ohio.
Connecticut head basketball coach Jim Calhoun said that Miles had “as much basketball ability” as any recruit he’d brought to UConn, a tall statement for a program that has won two national titles and produced the likes of Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton and Rudy Gay.
Miles, a 6-7 guard-forward, is the type of pure scorer that teams build around and college coaches chase after. As a freshman at Libbey (Ohio) High School, Miles ran into St. John’s Jesuit in the Ohio state Playoffs. The area’s most dominant school, St. John’s had a squad that featured 10 future college athletes, five of whom were D-I basketball players. Miles was still the most talented player on the floor. St. John’s respect for Miles was immediately visible. The Titans guarded him with Zach Hillesland, a center/power forward whose M.O. was lockdown D.
“It was just weird because I hadn’t guarded anybody all year as far out as I had to guard him,” said Hillesland, who went on to become a captain at Notre Dame. “He’s one of those guys that you didn’t guard anyone like him all year, with his combination of length, height and his ability to shoot from 30 feet out. You kind of have that nervousness at the beginning (of the game), like, ‘God, I hope he doesn’t put 50 on me right now and totally embarrass us.’”
Even with the city’s best defender hounding him, Miles was exceptional. His game was frighteningly polished for someone so young; his driving, ball-handling, dead-eye shooting and a superb floor presence nearly stole a playoff win for Libbey. But even in a loss, the message was delivered: Miles was Toledo’s next ticket to the Association.
“When you have a player who has a good mid-range game that can attack the basket, you can give him a little bit of space. With a guy like (Miles), you have to be up in him, which opens up everything else, and then he can handle the ball as well,” Hillesland said. “At the end of the game he’ll have 35 points and you’ll be, like, ‘How did he even—I wasn’t even paying attention.’ He scores in so many different ways.”
But whereas scoring on the court was easy for Miles, scoring points on tests was a totally different matter. Miles’ poor grades forced his legal guardian to move him—he attended five schools in four states, to be exact—so that he could stay eligible to earn a D-I offer. In short, it worked. While playing for Texas Cornerstone in 2006, Miles lit up a Chicago tournament with a 40-point performance and a half-court buzzer-beater that earned him the undivided attention of Connecticut assistant coach Tom Moore.
Moore introduced Miles to a man named Josh Nochimson. As a former UConn team manager who was Richard Hamilton’s business manager as well as Luol Deng’s agent, Nochimson being anywhere near Miles was an NCAA violation.
“Right after the game, Tom Moore introduced me to (Nochimson) and got me on the phone with him. Ever since that day, we were just connected,” Miles said.
Eight days after first speaking with Nochimson, Miles committed to UConn.
“Coach Calhoun told me that I had a chance to be a great player,” Miles said, “all I had to do was listen to him.”
Unfortunately for Miles, he took Calhoun’s advice.