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Darius Miller stood with 20 other players, waiting to hear his name called as the selections for who made the first cut of the World University Games roster were read from a list in front of them all.
Miller and the rest of the team had finished the fourth training session at a complex called “SportsCenter II” in Colorado Springs. A week remained until the team left for China, and the roster had to be trimmed. Twenty-one players had come to Colorado on Friday. Fourteen would be left after Sunday, and now the entire team was called into a room at the same time to hear the announcement of who made it and who didn’t.
“I was definitely nervous going into that room,” Miller said in an interview with the Kernel. “They talked to us about how it was a tough decision, how everybody played pretty good. Then they just went to announcing the names.”
Miller was one of the 14 who will be staying in Colorado. The team will cut the roster down from 14 to 12 in the next few days. The updated roster has not been released by USA Basketball.
Should Miller make the cut, it will be his second time competing internationally. In 2009, he was part of the U-19 USA team that won a gold medal. Parts of that experience have translated to this one. Purdue’s Matt Painter was an assistant coach on the 2009 team; he’s now the head coach of the World University Games team. Ashton Gibbs played on the 2009 team; he’s trying out for this team, and rooming with Miller.
“It’s another chance to play top competition and meet new players,” Miller said. “I want to pick up a little something from everybody.”
That includes players who Miller will be facing again in the spring, as SEC opponents John Jenkins and JaMychal Green are trying out.
“I’m getting a little scouting report,” Miller said. “They’re playing really good, actually. You can tell they worked on their games and are going to be good this season. Especially JaMychal. It’s going to be tough this season.”
Even if Miller does not make the final roster, he said it’s already been a beneficial three days.
While other UK players turned down the chance for international competition earlier this summer — Terrence Jones, Anthony Davis, Mike Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague declined invitations to play for the U-19 team — Miller wanted this experience to augment his time spent in the Joe Craft Center with his teammates (games Miller said were very competitive, with lots of trash-talking).
“It’s a different variety of players,” Miller said. “All of them are good, or they wouldn’t be here.”
Miller also gets to be around a stacked lineup of coaches — Painter, Butler’s Brad Stevens, Arizona’s Sean Miller, Tennessee’s Cuonzo Martin, VCU’s Shaka Smart — and while none of them are like Calipari, Miller said, they can all help him get better as he gets ready to be a leader for UK.
“I try to talk to them and see what I can learn from them,” Miller said. “Ask them what I need to be doing, see if they can help me become a better player. (They said) the only thing you can control is your effort and your attitude.”
UPDATE: The 14 finalists have been announced. Here’s the list of names:
Tim Abromaitis (Notre Dame) listed as 6-foot-8 F/C
Marcus Denmon (Missouri) listed as 6-foot-3 G
Ashton Gibbs (Pittsburgh) listed as 6-foot-2 G
Draymond Green (Michigan State) listed as 6-foot-7 F
JaMychal Green (Alabama) listed as 6-foot-8 F
Scoop Jardine (Syracuse) listed as 6-foot-2 guard
John Jenkins (Vanderbilt) listed as 6-foot-4 guard
Orlando Johnson (UC Santa Barbara) listed as 6-foot-5 guard
Greg Mangano (Yale) listed as 6-foot-10 C
Trevor Mbakwe (Minnesota) listed as 6-foot-8 F/C
Ray McCallum (Detroit Mercy) listed as 6-foot-1 G
Darius Miller (Kentucky) listed as 6-foot-6 G
Aaric Murray (West Virginia) listed as as 6-foot-11 C
Shabazz Napier (Connecticut) listed as 6-foot-0 G