Daniel Miller: To Tech, via Athens

It was preordained that Daniel Miller would grow up (and up and up) into basketball.

His dad is 6 feet 8, his mom 6-3 and a former college player. When Daniel was a child, she divorced and married a man who happened to be 6-5 and loaded with athletic DNA.

Once Miller sprouted to nearly 7 feet, it seemed as sure as a two-handed dunk that family ties would tug him to the leafy campus in Athens that prominently bears a name familiar to him.

"Everything Daniel had heard about sports was Georgia," said his stepfather, Preston Towns, the son of one of the Bulldogs' most distinguished athletics alums. Forrest "Spec" Towns was a world record holder in the hurdles, then a UGA coach who stockpiled 26 SEC track and field titles, now memorialized on the sign out front of Spec Towns Track.

"I tried not to influence his decision," Towns said. But when Miller committed to Georgia, "I was happy he did."

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What, then, do the Towns folk think now that Miller, to paraphrase a certain Cavaliers-turned-Heat player, has taken his talents to Georgia Tech?

"I had to go to my father's grave and have a conversation," Preston said, joking (mostly).

Preston may no longer drape himself in Bulldogs garb, even replacing it with Tech threads.

"But," he said, chuckling, "I'm keeping my red-and-black underwear."

A coaching change at UGA changed Daniel's mind. Dennis Felton was fired soon after Miller's senior season at Loganville Christian Academy.

New coach Mark Fox met with the family and, according to UGA, pledged to honor Miller's commitment. The Towns household sensed that Fox's enthusiasm for him did not match Felton's, a common conclusion reached by recruits amid coaching transitions.

"Coach Felton had a place for me," Miller said. "[Fox] didn't say anything bad. He told me, ‘You could help us out.'"

Uneasy, Miller phoned his original second choice, Georgia Tech. Trying futilely not to sound desperate, he recalls asking coach Paul Hewitt something along the lines of, "Can you please take me?" Hewitt did, within days of his release from Georgia.

Despite his size, Miller had been late in boarding the recruiting merry-go-round. He was a baller early on, shooting at two goals at the house (one of them rolled up to the backyard trampoline), but lack of exposure kept him outside the scope of major colleges.

His LCA team competed off basketball's beaten path in the Georgia Independent School Association. As a result, the AAU circuit, where prospects' reputations are certified, was foreign to him.

It was dad's idea to enroll Miller at LCA, where the class of 2008 numbered 35 students.

"In some people's minds, we took a huge risk" with his son's basketball future by opting for the tiny school, Towns said. In games, Miller rarely ventured out of the paint and he stood eye-to-eye with an opponent only if that player were standing on the bench.

"Honestly, we didn't know he was going to be [this good as] a player," Towns said.

They found out as soon as Miller enlisted with AAU after his junior season. On the drive home from the first tournament, the phone rang with a scholarship offer.

The earliest avid suitors included Minnesota's Tubby Smith, a Felton predecessor at UGA. Once, with Miller's school arena under construction, he rounded up some teammates and auditioned for Smith at a church gym.

Miller says he never wavered in ultimately choosing Tech, even with an early dose of disappointment. Hewitt, flush with gifted big men, brought up sitting out his first season as a redshirt. Both parties claim it was Miller's call, but he got the message loud and clear that playing minutes would be scarce.

Now, "I'm glad I did the redshirt," said Miller, slightly goateed, bearing a slight resemblance to his sporting idol, swimmer Michael Phelps. "I worked just as hard as anybody on the team, if not harder."

He grinded in practice with NBA players-in-waiting Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal, plus Zach Peacock. Before and after, he lifted lots of weights as well as knives and forks, the basketball staff insisting that he not miss a meal. The routine packed nearly 25 pounds on Miller, who was approaching 260 when he was diagnosed recently with mononucleosis, which means a projected three weeks of missed practice.

After the mass exodus of Tech's prolific post players, Miller could get more court time than a repeat criminal offender.

"I'm very, very pleased with what I've seen," Hewitt said. "I'm trying not to put too many expectations on him."

The challenge: adjust to the pace and intensity of the ACC. Hewitt equated it to a baseball hitter going from batting practice to a game.

"He will catch up," the coach said. "It's a question of how quick he catches up."

Another task is to find enough game tickets to accommodate his eight siblings, all younger, and various grown-up kin in these parts.

The cheering section will not include his step-grandad, Spec Towns. He died in 1991, less than four months after Daniel was born.

Preston Towns believes Spec would approve of Daniel wearing the hated rival's colors under such circumstances.

"I love Georgia football," said Towns, having attended nearly every home game with his father. He does not consider himself a two-timer for falling in love with Georgia Tech basketball.

Still, Daniel does not expect to see Dad wearing a T-shirt that the son bought for him at a bookstore near the Tech campus. It reads: "Beat The Dogs."

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