Praise for a rookie? Miller already has earned it from Lynx coach Reeve
Almost two weeks into training camp, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve was asked about her biggest surprise. Her reaction? Immediate, coming as quickly as her top rookie's first step to the basket:
Two things: Reeve, who can sometimes fall on the curmudgeonly end of the spectrum, isn't one to compliment rookies. She'd rather challenge than congratulate. And we're talking about the No. 2 overall pick in April's draft. So Miller came to the Lynx from Maryland with a ton of expectations.
And, probably, exceeded them.
"At what an easy adjustment it's been for Diamond Miller," Reeve said. "She's been able to do the things we watched her do at Maryland. She's finding ways to be successful. She messes up a lot, yes. But she's looked like one of the better players on the court. It's hard to come to the WNBA and do so well in training camp. Literally, from the first time she stepped on the court, she's been one of our best players. I wasn't expecting that."
Which only makes those expectations greater.
Miller is a legitimate 6-3. She is long, lean, quick. As the team's highest draft pick since Maya Moore went No. 1 overall in 2011, Miller will start for the Lynx from day one. Will she make mistakes? Of course. Will there be a learning curve? A steep one. But when it comes to Miller, the coaches aren't the only ones with confidence.
"I do have expectations for myself," Miller said. "Obviously. But I just want to play hard, give it my all. Every time I play now, I still get this excited feeling. My main goal is to be happy, to have fun, work hard and be out there on the court."
A big first step
Reeve called Miller perhaps the greatest pure athlete she has ever coached. Now, add to that a worth ethic she traces back to her grandfather and a joy that is already apparent to her new teammates?
That's a rare combination.
Reeve watched Miller through four years at Maryland. A stunning sophomore season followed by a junior year slowed because of a knee injury. Last year when — as five of her teammates left the Terrapins for the NCAA transfer portal but Miller decided to stay — she proceeded to lead coach Brenda Frese's team to the Elite Eight.
Reeve saw Miller's explosive first step, her uncanny ability to get to the free-throw line, the joy she brought to the court. But then, right away in training camp, she saw more. After every session she'd leave thinking, "Huh, OK, wow."
"I love a competitor," Reeve said. "She's not afraid. She knows she belongs. And she's so confident in what she does and so persistent at doing it. She's not wide-eyed, at all. From day one it's been, 'This is what I do.'"
Some players succeed purely on ability. Some carve out careers with a relentless work ethic. A few have both.
"Oh my goodness, just a ball of energy," Lynx guard Kayla McBride said. "She is built for this league. Athletically gifted, for sure. Willing to learn. She asks so many questions. Everyone has a learning curve as a rookie, but she has the right mind-set."
Turns out it runs in the family. Miller's father, Lance — who played at Villanova as a 6-6 forward — was her AAU coach. But Miller can take it back another generation, to Lance's dad, David Miller.
"He passed away a couple years ago," Miller said. "I just remember at my games, he always used to say, 'Be intense. You're a Miller. We don't play easy, we play hard.' That grew on my dad, and it grew on me. And my mom [Dreana] was always like, 'Be intense.' So my whole family was constantly telling me give it your all. Do something 100 percent or don't do it at all. That intensity level? That's me. That's what I do."
There will, of course, be challenges. As Miller improves her three-point shot, her ability to drive will become even harder to stop. If she's able to do that, Frese said her WNBA comparable would be Sun All-Star forward DeWanna Bonner.
"This is her goal," Frese said of Miller being in the WNBA. "This was her dream. Now she's here, and she knows people believe in her."
Miller will need to make the right decisions after penetrating into the paint. Though her size and quickness gives her tremendous defensive flexibility, avoiding fouls will be a must.
But in a season that is all about development of players, Miller will have the time — and the coaches' patience — to do just that.
"Pressure is something you love," Miller said. "If you're not having pressure, that means it's not important. Pressure keeps you going. It's exciting. That's the funnest thing of being a professional athlete is that there is always pressure on you. I'm not perfect, by any means. And I don't plan to be in the future. But I'm always going to try my best. Whatever happens, happens."
It already appears to be happening.
"It's still crazy to me that basketball is my job," Miller said. "One thing I know is when I step on the court I feel so happy."