Adam Miller is among the many hundreds of college basketball players who have been on the move since the close of the 2020-21 season, but he is one of the select dozen whose journey will carry him to Latvia.
There, 4,666 miles from his old home in Champaign, Illinois, and 5,321 miles from his new home in Baton Rouge, La., Miller will join eleven other young American basketball players seeking to continue USA Basketball’s reign as champions of the FIBA U-19 World Cup.
The U.S. has won four of the past six tournaments in this age group. High schoolers (and future All-Americans) Cade Cunningham and Jalen Suggs were among the key contributors of the most recent winners, but college freshmen Reggie Perry (Mississippi State) and Trevion Williams (Purdue) provided the experience and power to help stabilize the team.
“I think the Trials went good. I really had fun. I just tried to enjoy it as much as possible,” Miller told Stock Market Pioneer. “I’ve been working on my game non-stop, so I just went out there and did what I usually do: I made open shots, made some good passes, played defense and communicated offensively, defensively and off the floor – just tried to be a leader as much as I can.”
A 6-3 wing who played high school ball in Chicago, Miller is the latest to offer proof the transfer portal is not a gateway to a lost dimension in the sport. Cameron Johnson became the No. 11 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft after moving from Pitt to North Carolina, and Brandon Clarke went 21st in that draft following his move from San Jose State to Gonzaga.
Miller hopes to be another such example, and making the U-19 team is a solid step in that direction. Such NBA stars as Gordon Hayward, Klay Thompson, Jason Tatum and Marcus Smart won championships with the U.S. in this tournament. It does not offer any guarantee, other than another opportunity to be evaluated against significant competition.
To become a pro, Miller will need to improve upon a freshman year in which he was a major contributor to a team that won a Big Ten Tournament title and earned a No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed, but he’ll have to be more productive than 8.3 points per game and more accurate than a 39 percent shooter from the field and 34 percent from 3-point range.
At the time Miller’s decision to leave became public, Illini coach Brad Underwood said the young guard had been “a big part of our success” in 2020-21 and praised his contributions at both ends of the floor. Miller told SN he left Illinois because “movement between assistant coaches” created a situation in which he “kind of just wanted to see what was out there.”
It was reported on April 21 that Miller had entered the transfer portal, and he chose LSU on May 1. There was speculation Illini assistant Orlando Antigua could return to the Kentucky staff as early as March 11, though he and fellow Illini assistant Ronald “Chin” Coleman were not officially hired by the Wildcats until May 11.
“I didn’t feel like it was a bad situation. I felt like it was a good one,” Miller said. “But I just wanted to see what would be best for me, and I felt like the best fit for me would be LSU.”
After finishing as SEC Tournament runner-up and losing in the NCAA Tournament second round, LSU lost top scorers Cameron Thomas, Javonte Smart and Trendon Watford to the NBA Draft, taking a combined 55 points and 41 shots per game.
There would have been a similar opportunity at Illinois with All-American Ayo Dosunmu departing, and he’d have known the system and some teammates, but Miller desired a fresh start.
“What stood out to me was coach Will Wade, what I’ve seen him do with his players, I feel like I can come in and take that role,” Miller said. “He always has had talented players, and I feel like they’ve had good relationships with him. I’ve asked players that he’s coached, and they tell me if he’s recruiting you that you’re the guy, you’re running the show, you’re going to come in and do big things. I feel like that’s my job.”
He probably won’t have as much offensive responsibility with the U-19 squad. On the past four championship teams, the highest scorer was Jalen Brunson at 14 points per game in 2015. The 2009 title team, with Thompson and Hayward, didn’t have anyone who averaged 11 points.
The U.S. will play its first pool game Saturday against Turkey. Mali and Australia are the other teams in the group. Medal round play begins July 7, with the final scheduled for July 11. Miller is among six on the U.S. roster who have played a season of Division I, making this a much older team than the one that won in 2019. There are six more who will be freshmen this fall, including top-five prospects Chet Holmgren (headed to Gonzaga) and Patrick Baldwin (Milwaukee).
Miller told SN the “non-stop” work on his game has involved extending his shooting range, trying to improve execution in pick-and-roll situations. “Just being a hooper and building my game completely,” he said.
That has involved watching a lot of game film, not just of his time at Illinois but of other players he admires, especially Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Trae Young, Steph Curry and Devin Booker. It is interesting that three of the players he chose are primarily point guards, and Curry always has had command of the position.
“I feel like they’re the best at what they do, no matter the size,” Miller said. “It’s just finding different things to do, different reads. Just take things here and there – you learn from seeing things, and I try to learn as much as I can.”
Miller has spent a month in Baton Rouge prior to leaving for the U-19 trials in Fort Worth.
“It was my first time going down south. I mean, I been to Texas before, but I’ve never been to Louisiana. It’s different,” Miller said. “I’m enjoying being able to wear shorts all the time.”