Florida State standout Ian Miller had to reach his late twentys to make a name for himself in professional basketball.
Now, at 29, he is playing with arguably one of Eurocup’s finest teams, Promitheas Patras. The Greek side reached the competition’s quarter-final phase last season, which ended prematurely due to COVID-19. Miller is leading the horde, amassing 19.3 points on 36.7% three-point and 95.2% free-throw shooting, plus 2.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Unfortunately, action in Patras has been put on hold since the club announced three positive COVID-19 tests on October 26.
A father of two children, Miller has dedicated his basketball journey to his father Julian who passed away in 2015, while his son was on his first overseas mission, Italian second division team Aurora Jesi. Ian stayed in Italy for a couple of years, before moving to Kazakhstan, Turkey, Israel and France. With the passage of time, he improved on his game, without renouncing his scoring instincts.
His performances this season, including an impressive late turnup at the Greek Super Cup Final which garnered Promitheas their first trophy ever, have whetted the appetite of a lot of teams across Europe, even China. However, the combo guard from Charlotte feels comfortable on his current team, coached by the gregarious Makis Giatras. The Detroit Pistons gave him a chance to make their NBA roster in the summer of 2014 – and Miller responded with solid games- but Euroleague and the Far East loom as the more lucrative options at the time.
The first question for Ian Miller after six years of playing overseas was about the scarse number of interviews he has done:“I’ve been sort of distant from the media people“, he concedes talking to TalkBasket.net. “I like to focus on my job and perform. Even if you see me on TV, I won’t even be looking comfortable talking into the microphone. I just want to stay focused on the game. In the summertime, I’d be chilling with the family and I’ll be handling no media. I don’t really answer the phone in the summer.“
Despite the above statement, the phone interview with the 6’2” guard went quite smoothly.
Q: How are things in Patras and Promitheas?
A: Everything here is cool. Greece is beautiful and I love the country. We got a full roster now and it’s better for us. Mantzaris and Nico (Radicevic) are great additions. They help the team find easy shots and generate offense, giving us more depth with their experience. Right now they are definitely getting the job done.
Diante Garrett is very important and I think people forgot about him, but I’m ready for him to come back. That will make us one of the best teams in Europe. I think there’s a lot of teams in Eurocup that can compete with Euroleague clubs this year. Just because of the COVID situation and the paycuts, a lot is up for grabs. Teams that are normally dominating countries are not so dominant in their local leagues like in the past. I know how talented my team and Diante are. We just got to be patient and wait for him to get back healthy.
Q: You had no previous pan-European competition experience before coming to Promitheas. So, how is Eurocup for you until now?
A: Every night is a battle, there are no easy games. But all we want is to have a full roster. I feel we can do some things in Eurocup that people didn’t expect us to do. The goal is to win.
Q: Why did you sign with Promitheas last summer?
A: Because they’re playing in the Eurocup, for one. Some friends had played for them before me and told me about the situation and how players are taken care of. Langston Hall told me how professional the club is, giving him the chance to display his talent. I always wanted the chance not just to play in Eurocup or Euroleague, but to be myself. Players often get to bad situations, where they don’t perform lke they can because they are not accustomed to playing the way their coach wants them to. That was another reason I came to Promitheas. I’ve been in those situations, but I can play in any kind of system.
Q: Do you feel like Langston Hall’s successor in Promitheas?
A: I never really thought of it like that. I came here to write my own story.
Q: Let’s talk about that story, then. Not being drafted in 2014 took a toll on you? How did you handle it?
A: I was ready to go to the next situation. I’ve never thought bad about it, not at all. I stayed positive and went right back to working out that night.
Q: You actually joined the Pistons for the 2014 Summer League. How was the experience? What did you learn?
A: I learned that it’s easy for me in the NBA because there’s a lot of space and shots are not created off the dribble. I didn’t really learn a lot mentally; just wanted to showcase myself and I did that. I had really good performances and teams definitely wanted me to come to traning camp, but I wasn’t with that. A lot of people get stuck in the G League or in training camp and then they don’t get good jobs in Europe. I wanted to go straight to a solid situation and if the NBA wanted me, they would come and get me. So, I wouldn’t try a Summer League again. If I were to be in the NBA, I would play a Patty Mills or Jason Terry-type of role. I used to watch them while I was in college.
Q: It’s interesting that all Detroit Pistons guards at that Summer League (Peyton Siva, David Lighty, Markell Starks, DeAndre Liggins) are now in Europe, with only one notable exception. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope went on to play with Detroit and later bacame an NBA champ with the Lakers. He was the youngest (21) player of you all at the time. What do you make of his case?
A: He’s a killer! He has accepted his role in LA, but real basketball players know Caldwell-Pope can do numbers easily.
Q: Stan Van Gundy was then both President of Basketball Operations and head coach of the Pistons. What feedback did you get from him?
A: Van Gundy loved me. He wanted me to go to the D League and get better at playing strictly point guard, but I didn’t want to play there. He told me I was a great guard and would spend time every day talking to me.
Q: Do you think you could have made an NBA roster? Are you going to pursue that goal?
A: Yeah, I believe I could play there, if the opportunity presents itself again. But I’m not chasing it because I got to handle what I have on my plate right now.
Q: If you were offered a two-way contract, would you go to the NBA?
A: It depends on the team and the situation. If I feel like I got a chance to go there and prove myself, yes. If I’m not on the court, I can’t do what I’m supposed to.
Q: In case things don’t work out like that, would Euroleague be your first choice?
A: It’s either Euroleague or China. They’re even for me. Money is good on both levels, but I like the style of play in China. Game is more like NBA style, up and down. Some of the best guards and scorers play there. It’s a five-month season and I will be able to spend more time in the States with my kids. I just want to find the best situation for me.
Q: Where was the best situation for you?
A: In Patras and Kazakhstan. They let me showcase my abilities; my coach then was AEK’s coach Ilias Papatheodorou. I had a good experience and a good feel for the Greek people after playing on a team with a Greek staff and two Greek teammates (Leonidas Kasselakis and Dimitris Katsivelis). I like Promitheas because we work hard on the court, but our coach gives us freedom to get better. He’s always teaching us, while trusting me to make mistakes.
Q: Two years ago, Rick Pitino compared Makis Giatras to West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. Is that description accurate?
A: I don’t know, I never played for Bob Huggins. But coach Makis is a good coach. He’s energetic and gives you a chance to grow as an individual. Nothing is ever personal with him. Even when he’s serious, he’s always joking. It’s hard not to like a person like that. The only thing he likes to say in English is “good luck” before the games.
Q: You reportedly selected Florida State over many prestigious college programs, like Miami, Kentucky, Oklahoma and North Carolina. Why did you make that choice?
A: I felt that it was the best school for me at the time. They were also becoming a good basketball team and I wanted to be a part of their growth. We won the first championship in school history. In the end, college shaped me because it helped me become a man, grow up fast and do things by myself.
Q: Since you have dedicated your career to your father, what do you think he would have liked you to achieve in it?
A: Win more championships, leave a legacy in any organization I play for, make people love me – not as a player, but as a person. That’s the things my father would want me to do. Being the best person mattered to him more than basketball or any amount of money I could make.
Q: You grew up in Charlotte. There’s a video of you training with KC Rivers and other players. How is hoop culture over there?
A: KC is like a big brother to me. He likes to hellraise me in basketball. He helped me stay motivated because I wanted to be like him and other people while growing up. I’ve seen them get out of college, play in the NBA or in the Euroleague, like KC and a few others. My mind was always locked in on what those guys were doing; and then I started copying their moves.
Also, Muggsy Bogues is like an uncle to me. He has been there pretty much my whole life, since I was 4-5. Me and his son played on the same team (Charlotte Flames). There were athletes and celebrity-type people playing for that program, which was run by my grandfather. Me and Muggsy became best friends immediately. When I got to high school and he saw how serious I had become with the game, he started to train me in the mornings before class. At 6 a.m. we’d be on the court. We keep in touch all the time. Whenever I struggle with or have a question about anything in basketball and life, I ask him. I know his story, in and out.
Q: The late Michael Ojo, who passed away a few months ago, was a teammate of yours at Florida State. What do you remember of him?
A: That was my man! From the first day at school, we talked and hung out. A person like that you don’t meet often. You got to cherish the moments you spend around him because I don’t know if I’ll ever meet somebody as gentle, honest and trustworthy. That’s the way you’d want to live your life. I don’t think he ever had a problem with anybody. That’s hard to find.
Q: You were voted Sixth Man of the Year in 2014 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. How did you adapt to being the go-to guy in Europe?
A: I was the sixth man by choice. My team couldn’t afford for me to start the game in my senior year. So, it was best for me to come off the bench. It’s not really about starting, but about me playing the minutes I should be playing at a high level. Promitheas has suited me well because they give me trust and confidence. Kazakhstan, France and Greece are three situations that let me be myself. Italy wasn’t for me. In Jesi there was too much going on between management and players.
Q: Why did you start off your pro career with an Italian second division team?
A: I was supposed to go First Division, but they were trying to sign me early in the summer and I kept telling them I wanted to go to Summer League first. By the time I made my mind, it was too late to sign with a good team.
Q: Do you feel more comfortable playing at point or shooting guard?
A: I’m a combo because I can get 6-7 assists any time too. I consider myself a guard.
Q: Do you consider yourself a clutch player?
A: Very much so. Promitheas is the first high-level team to allow me be myself and part of that is being a clutch player.
Q: Who’s the best teammate you ever had?
A: Ousman Krubally and Ronald Lewis. Those were two big brothers to me. I look up to them and I also talk to them almost every day. But I never had any bad teammates.