The Big Blue Nation is on pins and needles right now with so much uncertainty still surrounding the state of the 2021-22 Kentucky Basketball Team. Two assistant coaching positions remain open, although the expectation is that both could be filled sooner rather than later, one of them in the form of a familiar face. But beyond the staff changes, the roster itself is still in flux.
What will happen with Keion Brooks Jr. and Davion Mintz? Will Isaiah Jackson shock us all and spurn the NBA Draft for a sophomore season? Who will fill the most important role as the primary lead ball handler?
It’s the last question that keeps fans up at night. Kentucky’s two worst seasons under head John Calipari (2012-13 and 2020-21) came without a bonafide stud at point guard. Until that position is filled, the rest of the rotation feels irrelevant right now.
Options are available, too. Minnesota’s Marcus Carr has long been a popular name while Georgia’s Sahvir Wheeler just recently popped up on Kentucky’s radar. Another name that Kentucky fans have recently become familiar with is Illinois guard Adam Miller, who announced on April 1 he was putting his name in the transfer portal. Not only does he have the connection to Illinois assistant coaches Orlando Antigua and Chin Coleman, both of which are being linked to potentially taking coaching jobs in Lexington, but a report by 247 Sports indicated that Miller has been in the discussion to transfer to Kentucky.
Taking it a step further, incoming Wildcat freshman Bryce Hopkins has been actively recruiting Miller to join him next season at UK. Both Miller and Hopkins are from the Chicago area and played their high school hoops there–Miller at Morgan Park and Hopkins at Fenwick. The belief is that Miller will announce his decision in the near future, possibly as soon as Saturday–Derby Day.
KSR spoke with Morgan Park High School’s head coach, Chris Gardner, on Thursday about Miller’s on-court game and what he could bring to Kentucky if he were to pick the ‘Cats. Gardner recently finished up his first season as the head coach at Morgan Park HS, taking over for Nick Irvin after spending two years as an assistant on the sidelines. During those two seasons, he was able to study and work with Miller closer than almost anyone and had plenty of good things to say about the 6-foot-3 combo guard.
While he did say that he was keeping any inside information about Miller’s decision “close to the vest”, Gardner was kind enough to break down some of his observations and opinions on Miller, providing some hypothetical situations with Kentucky along the way.
“My first thought was, where can he go where he can be a great fit for what Adam Miller the player and the man wants to do with his life? And Kentucky was one of those places,” Coach Gardner told KSR. “Calipari has been notorious for getting off-guards in the NBA, from Mychal Mulder to [Devin] Booker to [Jamal] Murray, and those guys didn’t average a whole lot of points but they displayed a skill set that I think Adam fits in. And if he does make that kind of decision to come to Lexington, I’ll be excited to see what Calipari can do with him as the next off-guard. Because in my head Adam is a combo guard. People don’t understand that he is a willing passer and can pass the basketball.”
During his freshman season at Illinois, Miller shined in an off-ball role next to ball-dominant players such as freshman point guard Andre Curbelo and All-American guard Ayo Dosunmu. Miller put up averages of 8.3 points and 2.8 rebounds while shooting 34 percent from beyond the arc on a team-high 153 attempts from 3-point range, starting all 31 games he appeared in for a top-seeded Fighting Illini squad.
Gardner maintains that Miller is a pure combo guard–someone who can handle the responsibilities of the point guard and shooting guard to the same level of success. Kentucky is looking for a player who can step in and run the show right away, spending the majority of his minutes as the main point guard. Gardner says Miller would embrace that role if he were to choose Kentucky.
“Hypothetically, if he were to go to Lexington and Cal wanted him to play the point, I wouldn’t have a problem with it and I don’t think [Adam would] have a problem with it either,” Gardner added. “The ball would be in his hands and it would go back to the point I just made that Adam is a willing passer and Adam can shoot the basketball. Adam can get in the paint like Calipari likes for his point guards to do, and he can get in the paint from the top of the floor and he can get into the paint from the wing.”
Miller’s defense noticeably improved from his high school days to his first year in college, something Gardner attributes to a “gym rat” type attitude and building himself up in the weight room. Gardner also believes Miller’s ceiling is comparable to that of a left-handed Bradley Beal, who currently plays for the Washington Wizards.
“He definitely took defense a lot more personally this year, especially help defense, his on-ball defense got better,” Gardner said. “His body is so matured now, it’s gotten so much better within one year. Another year in college, it’s probably only going to get better. His condition was a whole lot better. He’s probably still dealing with it, he’s got a little case of asthma and we made sure that he stayed on top of his medications and things like that. But high-major Divison I schools are gonna make sure all of those things are taken care of.”
Gardner explained that Miller was the type of kid you had to kick out of the gym to get him to stop working. It’s either 100 percent or nothing for him, no in-between. Miller has never been shy of a challenge, either, going so far as to test Gardner the very first day the two met, years ago.
“The first day I met him he challenged me and said ‘Are you getting up and down with us today?’ and I said hey man don’t threaten me with a good time,” Gardner recalled with a laugh. “But I didn’t have my stuff, I wasn’t prepared. I knew from that point on I gotta start keeping my stuff in my truck again.”
What Gardner didn’t know at the time was how much influence Miller would have on him as a coach over the course of the next two years. In his now 12 years of coaching, including stints as a Junior College head coach, Gardner says he’s only experienced a handful of players that made as much of an impact on him as Miller.
“Every coach has a list of kids who change their perspective on the game,” Gardner explained. “Adam is on that list for me. He’s in my top five of kids I’ve ever coached.”
No matter where he winds up, Gardner knows that Miller will succeed, but he couldn’t help but imagine what the Kentucky program could do for Miller’s future.
“If he chooses [Kentucky] I will be super, super excited and super intrigued of what that’s going to look like,” Gardner said.