Daniel Miller has a little too much choir boy in him to pull off a nickname such as “the enforcer,” a little too much rosy in his cheeks. “Thank you,” he says, taking it as a compliment and giving a glimpse into his dry sense of humor.
Georgia Tech’s 6-foot-11 senior center doesn’t need a nickname or a scowl to validate him as one of the top shot blockers in the ACC. Just the stats, ma’am.
Miller tied with K.J. McDaniels of Clemson and Alex Len of Maryland, the fifth overall pick in last year’s NBA draft, for the ACC lead in blocks last season at 2.1 per game. Miller has 206 blocks for his career, making him the active leader in the ACC and third all-time on the Georgia Tech career list behind Alvin Jones (425) and John Salley (243).
And Miller will “ma’am” you, too, and “sir.” He was raised on manners in Loganville in a household with seven younger brothers and sisters.
But he’ll put pleasantries aside on the court. Ask Brice Johnson, North Carolina’s sophomore forward who had his preconceived notions about Miller altered in January after watching him block a couple of shots against the Tar Heels at the Dean Dome.
“I thought he was a big stiff,” Johnson said. “When I actually saw him, I was like ‘This kid can actually move.’ He’s a big guy. I was surprised he could jump like that. I was surprised with how athletic he was.”
In Johnson’s defense, it’s not only opponents who make assumptions based on the choir-boy effect.
“He’s so kind of unassuming that you don’t look at him as a great defensive player or alterer of shots,” Tech coach Brian Gregory said. “He’s got that deep voice, and he’s kind of got a goofy look on his face half the time.”
Yet Miller has the size and skills that won him a spot on the All-ACC defensive team last season.
“He’s got good timing,” Gregory said. “And he’s usually in good position off the ball. He’s got a high IQ basketball-wise, and so he’s got a good feel for the game. That feel helps him anticipate a little bit.”
What Gregory will be interested to see this season is how Miller puts those athletic skills to use on offense. Miller has averaged around eight points per game each of the past two seasons. Miller has been a little too polite on offense.
“I’m just going to be honest,” Gregory said. “He’ll never be as assertive or aggressive as I want him to be on offense. That’s because I’d want him to try to score every time he touched the ball. And that’s just not in his nature, plus he’s a very good passer.”
Gregory said he’s simply encouraging Miller to add two offensive rebounds each game this season, which he figures will translate into two put-back baskets, without him having to overthink changing his approach.
Add two more defensive rebounds, while he’s at it, Gregory figures, and Miller will average 12 points and 10 rebounds per game, a double-double, to go along with usual shot-blocking production.
“I think he’s primed to have a great senior year,” Gregory said.
Toward that end, Miller has gained 15 pounds. He is up to 275 pounds, after weighing 260 the final game of last season. He has worked on his roll hooks and his jump hooks — and his mindset.
Miller is a perfectionist. He hates missing shots, so sometimes he would rather not take them.
His idea of what should be normal is the stretch in his sophomore season when he was 8-for-12 for 21 points in back-to-back games against Georgia and Savannah State.
“I was loving life,” Miller said. “I made my jump hook, my roll hooks, my jump shots. I was hoping it could be like that forever, but unfortunately it can’t be.”
Miller said he’s still the same guy who hates missing, but he doesn’t beat himself up as much when he does.
“I’ve got to realize so many guys miss a lot of shots, and I can’t get upset if I miss one,” Miller said. “It’s just confidence really. I’ve been banging more in the post, not shying away from the contact as much. Just really trying to score, become that offensive threat this year.”