BOULDER – Upon landing Tory Miller last November, Tad Boyle gleefully yanked the sheet from the “Wide Load” signage. It was the natural reaction for a University of Colorado basketball program that needed a big, broad, imposing frontcourt body – or as Boyle noted on signing day, Miller offered “a wide presence that we haven’t had since I’ve been here.”
That “wide presence” has been on campus since early June, attending summer school and acclimating to his new teammates and surroundings. The big body label is one he can’t ignore – after all, he’s 6-9 (in shoes) and 254 pounds – but it’s also one that he’s downplaying for the time being.
“To be honest, I don’t know my role yet,” he said. “It’s too early. It’s only June; we’ve got, what, almost six months until the season starts? It’s yet to be decided. What I’m here to do is make an early impact if I can. Whether it’s on the floor, off the floor, in practice, in the classroom, wherever. I only want to help the team succeed in whatever we do and win championships.”
Miller’s specified role will become apparent soon enough. In fact, I suspect he already has more than a general idea of what Boyle and the Buffs will expect from him. But he’s a humble, unassuming guy with a quick smile, infectious laugh and a handshake that might make dust out of a fist-sized chunk of granite.
Early low post prediction: The basketball won’t be poked away too often when he’s clutching it with both hands.
In the Kansas City area (Lee’s Summit, Mo.) as a kid, Miller played soccer, baseball and most everything else that kids do before they start growing and target a specific sport. One of eight siblings, Miller was over 6-feet as an eighth grader and says he grew three inches and “about two shoes sizes” that summer. His parents weren’t super-sized, both in the 5-10 range, with his dad playing football at Cal Poly Tech. Miller played freshman football (tight end, defensive end) at Lee’s Summit North before basketball began calling him.
“I just knew it was what I liked,” he said. “I don’t want to say I was destined to play it, but it was what I gravitated to . . . it was what I kept going back to. And I didn’t like the other practices.”
So what was the big draw in hoops?
“Honestly, I just kept winning,” he said, laughing. “I mean, I wasn’t the best but I kept the attitude of ‘now I’ve got to go beat him.’ Then it was, ‘now I’ve got to go beat him’ . . . until I felt like I was the best in Kansas City.”
THAT DRIVE PROVED SUFFICIENT. Until he reached middle school, he doesn’t remember wanting to emulate any college or NBA players. Then, in middle school, Kobe Bryant captured his attention – “although his game is nothing like mine.”
Moving from Lee’s Summit to New Hampton (N.H.) Prep for two years, Miller ultimately attracted the attention of what he described as a “long list” of schools from the ACC, SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, Big East and Pac-12. The list was pared to Marquette, Iowa, Syracuse and CU, and on his trip to Boulder, “I knew,” he said. “You know when you know, and I knew on my visit.”
Miller’s first impression on his CU teammates has been a good one – and vice versa. Junior post Josh Scott sees Miller as “extremely coachable, hardnosed and a hard worker . . . he passes well, finishes well in the paint off of pick and rolls and he rebounds. And he’s got good a pretty good jump shot. For a freshman he’s going to be good.”
Miller feels he’s been accepted “by a great group of guys,” calling the Buffs “very welcoming.” With a laugh, he added, “The seniors took me in and there’s no hazing yet, but I know there’s still time for that.”
Also for incoming freshmen, there are usually conditioning issues – namely that most believe they might be in condition but in reality don’t have a clue what that is. Said Scott of Miller: “He’s like all freshmen coming in; very few of them realize how tough it is at this level. Luckily for him, he’s got guys here like Wesley (Gordon) and myself to kind of show him how it’s going to be and what conditioning level he needs to be at. Once the season starts he should be fine.”
Of course, James Hardy, the hoops program’s strength coach, expects Miller to get stronger. But like anyone who’s been within an arm’s length of Miller, Hardy is impressed with the freshman’s superstructure. “I like Tory a lot; he works hard, he’s always smiling,” Hardy said. “He’s got a good solid frame on him. It’s exciting to have a kid come in who has a frame like that. Now, he’s a freshman, so he doesn’t know necessarily what’s coming and what to expect. But he’s excited to be here and we’re sure excited to have him in the weight room.”
Hardy isn’t sure if 254 pounds is a “good” weight for Miller: “It’s going to take us a little while to figure that out . . . we’re still doing a lot of technique work and getting (the newcomers) used to the weight room system. I haven’t really seen his full potential for strength yet. We’ll see as he starts to develop. He might have a little more fat on him than I’d like him to have. We’ll trim him down; that’s not a big deal. But it’s the frame I’m excited about, the bone structure. It’s stuff that I can’t change.”
MILLER SEEMS OK WITH whatever Hardy prescribes, particularly in the area of getting him stronger: “You can always improve in anything . . . I’m not expecting to come in here and bench 300 or squat with six plates. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. But, yeah, I can always use more strength. Who can’t?”
The competitive level of the Pac-12 will be new to Miller, but he contends it won’t be a shock. In his final season at New Hampton, he averaged 9 points and 5.8 rebounds for the Huskies (22-8). He was in double figures in the quarterfinals, semis and championship game of the NEPSAC AAA Tournament and he recorded double-doubles in the quarters (12 points/10 rebounds) and semis (21/12). Brewster defeated New Hampton 68-63 in the title game, with Miller contributing 14 points.
His prep school competition “was probably like college . . . just unbelievable,” he said, mentioning Andrew Wiggins, formerly of Kansas, and 6-10 Syracuse signee Chris McCullough. “Every game you were facing a top 25 player – guys who were headed for the SEC, the ACC, wherever. It was good competition; it got me ready for here. I’m not shocked by the competition here at all.”
Here’s another early prediction: At times over the course of his freshman season in the Pac-12, there will be shock. And awe. Which is as typical for a freshman as discovering what it really means to be in shape and to push through fatigue.
Miller calls his jump shot “decent” and says his mid-range game “is coming together. I worked on it a lot at prep school and when I went home. I’ve put time in on it before I got here. But I can always improve on that and become more consistent – like being open and knocking it down. But I think I can get out and score.”
He also contends he has decent rebounding skills, but adds he’s aware of a need “to get out and chase (the ball) more because sometimes I tend to relax. Coach says he doesn’t want that. But it’s June of my freshman year.”
Counting Miller, CU added three freshman to its roster and Miller is very familiar with the other pair. He’s played AAU basketball with Denver East point guard Dominique Collier and played at New Hampton Prep with walk-on guard Josh Repine, formerly of Kent Denver.
The 6-3 Repine, said Miller, was known at New Hampton as “The Red Rocket” (he’s a redhead). Miller said his former now current teammate had mulled walking on at Notre Dame or another school. But once CU offered Miller a scholarship Repine began reconsidering.
“He started talking about Colorado, then he talked to Tad,” Miller said. “It was maybe a month later and he said I’m coming to Colorado. I’m glad; we’ve got a good relationship, like I do with Dom.”
Miller isn’t sure whether he will remain on campus for most of the summer – the first summer term ends July 3 – or return home to visit with a brother, Nicolas Stewart, who will be on military leave. “There’s a lot to learn, but I feel like I’ve already taken in a lot over the past 15 days,” he said. “I’m past the point where my head is swimming.”
SUMMER NOTABLES: Scott says the benefits of summer conditioning work are immeasurable: “I always enjoy summer; if you want to be good, summer should be your second-favorite time of the year. You can’t play any games but you can get really good in the summer.” . . . . Hardy said one of the returning Buffs who has committed to remaining on campus for the remainder of the summer is Wesley Gordon, a 6-9 redshirt sophomore. Gordon, said Hardy, has made noticeable weight-room strides . . . . Little touches make big impacts on newcomers. Miller has been touched by the Buffs’ habit of breaking team huddles with the “one-two-three, family” refrain. “When you’ve got guys who do that, who care about each other not just on the court, you know they support you,” he said. “If you need something they’re right there for you. Even if we didn’t say that (family on three) you could still feel it in the locker room. You could be fighting on the court, then five minutes later you’re back together and feel like brothers.” . . . . In pickup games and practices that Hardy has watched, he said Miller has “held his own so far. I don’t know how he’ll do when he gets tired; that’s what we’ll try to work on later on in the summer during the preseason work. That’s when we start trying to work on that mental training.” . . . . The 6-10 Scott is hoping to push to 250 pounds or beyond before the season starts. He says he’s put on 9 pounds since the end of the 2013-14 season and is now weighing just under 245. “I’m on track, lifting and getting stronger,” he said. “I’m probably one of the most checked-out bodies on campus. Guys are always wanting to know how much weight I’ve put on. I’m doing well.”