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April 2, 2012

Title game to be the last Miller time

NEW ORLEANS - Four years, 151 games, 123 victories, 1,243 points, 40 teammates, countless friends, countless fans.

The Kentucky basketball career of Darius Miller will end on Monday night at the Superdome, and the senior forward from Maysville will have left quite a mark - a stalwart on the nation's most transient program and an experienced leader on a team built around underclassmen.

He's won a lot of games and won over a lot of fans. He'd certainly win over even more if he can help deliver an eighth national championship to UK.

When UK plays Kansas for the national title on Monday (9 p.m. EST, CBS), it'll be Miller's 152nd game for the Wildcats - breaking Wayne Turner's school record.

"He's Kentucky's own; they love him," UK coach John Calipari said on Sunday. "If he wants to get into politics, he could run for governor and win. ... He's beloved. He's going to be one of those guys 50 years from now, they're going to be talking about."

Miller, who ranks 35th on UK's career scoring list, said on Sunday that he's given little thought to what his UK legacy will be, although he shot down with a laugh that he'll ever have any ambition to run for governor.

"I don't know nothing about politics, so I don't think that would be good for the state at all," he said.

Public official or not, Miller's Kentucky legacy is bound to be a bright one. He's been a key player on two teams that made the Final Four and another that made the Elite Eight.

Calipari on Saturday night, after UK defeated Louisville with Miller playing a clutch role off the bench, called Miller the "most unselfish player I've ever coached."

Indeed, Miller regularly defers and downplays when he's asked questions about his own achievements. Case in point was Sunday, when Miller was asked by a reporter how important his unselfishness is to UK's success. He answered by saying All-American Anthony Davis is just as unselfish as him.

Miller said he "had no clue" that he was about to break Turner's record for games played until he was told about it on Sunday morning.

"It's an honor," he said. "It's a blessing to be a part of something like that and a program like this. It's been a long road for me. I've had fun with it all. Just to be a part of something like that means a lot."

He began as a freshman on Billy Gillispie's last Kentucky team, which wound up as the only UK team not to make the NCAA Tournament in the past 20 years.

After Gillispie was fired, Calipari oversaw an nearly complete overhaul of the roster and brought in superstar recruits such as John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. It ushered in the so-called one-and-done era of NBA-bound underclassmen at UK.

Miller was one of the few Gillispie-recruited players to stay with the team. Two of the others, Josh Harrellson and Patrick Patterson, he said, are probably his closest friends among the 40 teammates he's had at UK, and they have been in regular contact with Miller this past week.

"I've seen a lot of ups and downs of Kentucky basketball," Miller said. "I've had a lot of fun. It's been a great experience for me. I've met a lot of new people, a lot of new friends, a lot of people I can call my brothers. I'm blessed to be a part of a program like this."

Miller started 69 games as a sophomore and junior but has come off the bench all but 11 times this season after Calipari brought in another group of elite, impact freshmen.

He's a reserve now, but his role has hardly diminished.

Miller averages 10.1 points per game, down from 10.9 last season; and 26.1 minutes, five fewer than last year.

On a team with Davis, the National Player of the Year, and multiple other likely NBA first-round draft picks, Miller has repeatedly been UK's No. 1 offensive option during stretches of the NCAA Tournament.

There was no bigger shot in the victory over Louisville than Miller's second-half three-pointer from the right wing that boosted UK's late lead.

"This is what he's built for," Davis said.

The Cats' freshmen and sophomores look up to Miller for his basketball skill and admire him for his affability, maturity and cool persona.

"He's a big role model for us," Doron Lamb said. "... He's just a guy that you got to like. He does nothing wrong, and he just plays hard until the end."

Terrence Jones, a native of Portland, Ore., said he knew basically nothing about Lexington last school year when he arrived as a freshman, and he knew no one to help him out. He didn't have a car or know where to go even to eat.

Miller, the home-state guy and the UK veteran, drove him around and made Jones feel at home.

"He took me in, took me around, showed me everywhere," Jones said. "I'll never forget that, how he just took care of me and didn't even know me. It was the first day I got here. ... I just knew from then that he was one of my big brothers, and he was going to take care of me if I ever needed anything. "

Miller, who has nearly 60,000 Twitter followers on his @uknum1 account, is a popular man on campus with countless friends, Jones said.

"You can see Darius with dudes you've never even seen before and you know they're cool, because they're with him," said Jones, who expects Miller to be playing in the NBA next season.

Jones said Miller "knows everybody" and is friends with many athletes from UK's other sports teams. Miller regularly tweets back and forth with his buddies on the football team.

"He's almost been there as long as I've been even in high school," Jones joked. "He's an old man on campus. I think they've got a wheelchair for him. He's got his own parking spot."

A four-year senior during the Calipari era at UK certainly does seem like a rare thing, but Miller said that doesn't mean he hasn't built lasting relationships with his many one-and two-year teammates. He said, for example, he regularly gets calls and text messages from Wall and Cousins.

"I still have the same bond," Miller said. "I just have it with more people."


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