July 15, 2009
On Monday, July 13, the United States broke an 18-year gold medal drought by beating Greece 88-80 on Sunday to win the FIBA under-19 world basketball championships. Darius Miller had been selected to the team and talks about the experience of winning a gold medal and playing abroad.
Q: Can you talk about what this experience meant to you?
“I can’t really put into words how I felt when we won the gold medal; it was a great experience. Just to even be a part of the USA team was overwhelming. I was honored to even make the team and then we go and win the gold medal. Everything together and being able to be in New Zealand, which is not somewhere that most people get a chance to go to, I feel blessed to be a part of it.”
Q: What does it mean to have USA written across your chest?
“I think that we played with a lot of intensity while we were over there. I think that we all took it very serious and the coaches did a very good job of making it serious for us. We played really hard and worked really hard before we went over there. I think that we held up our end of the bargain while we played with that jersey on.”
Q: Was there a moment where you realized that you were playing for your country and not just a high school or college but the entire country?
“Yeah, it hit me during the first game when we were getting introduced and I was standing across from another team from a different country. I don’t even know how to explain it after it hit me that I was representing my country. It was a great experience and I will never forget it.”
Q: Were you motivated by all the international talk that the world is catching up to the United States in basketball and that everyone wanted to beat the US?
“Definitely, we watched a few videos of the teams that had won it recently and they talked about how important it was to win. We wanted to come out and represent our country. I think that the guys did a good job of playing hard every single time we stepped on the court and the coaches took it really serious and made sure we did too. Every time we stepped out there we worked hard to try to bring the gold medal back.”
Q: Did you notice any difference from international play and how basketball is played in this country?
“A few of the rules were different, so it took a little time to adjust. We had a couple of scrimmage games to get ready and get use to it and we had been practicing with their rules while we were in Colorado Springs. So I think that they did a great job of getting us ready for that.”
Q: What rule difference affected you the most?
“We got a lot of travels called on us. The way that you had to gather yourself when you got the ball was different. It took us a while to get use to that and there were a few turnovers here and there that we shouldn’t have had. We gave up the ball a few times just on that and I think that was the biggest difference that we had to get use to.”
Q: When you were growing up did you ever dream of being an Olympian or having a gold medal around your neck? Do you want more international experience now?
“Yeah, I think that everyone dreamed about that, but I never thought that it would happen. That is a big dream and it happened for me and I am blessed that it did. It is definitely something that I will look forward to doing again if I can. It definitely got me better and playing against that great competition was a big help for my game. If they invite me, I would be happy to go again.”
Q: Do you feel that you are a more confident player?
“I definitely think that it could have helped my confidence playing against great competition and against players on my team. There were a few times that we got to scrimmage against the older team that got to go over and play in Serbia. It really helped me a lot.”
Q: How would you describe your role on the USA team?
“I was just trying to do a little bit of everything. We had a lot of guys that can score and others that can do other things like pass. I was just trying to bring energy every time I stepped on the court and help the team get going offensively and defensively”
Q: The UK fans seem to want you to step up your scoring this year. Do you think you will do that or will you carry more of this defensive do-it-all mentality?
“I don’t know. I really don’t know what my role on the team will be yet. We haven’t been able to practice with each other a lot so I really couldn’t tell you what my role will be right now.”
Q: Do you think that traveling overseas has changed you at all? Do you sense that this trip has made you grow up at all?
“Definitely, if you go overseas it makes you appreciate what we have here. I think this is a great country and you really get to see that when you travel to other places. I think that really does help grow up a little bit.”
Q: Do you think that playing and working out during the summer makes you mentally tired when the beginning of the season starts?
“I’m not really concerned about that. I think all of us will be fine, especially myself. I don’t get nervous about getting burned out.”
Q: What did you think about New Zealand in general?
“I thought it was a very beautiful place. There were a lot of great places to go visit. We got to go on this little boat tour and got to see all kinds of things such as volcano. It was a great experience even off the basketball court, just travelling. Not a lot of people get to go to places like that so it was just a great all around experience.”
Q: I heard the food was terrible.
“Yeah, that food wasn’t too good. I think a lot of us lost weight while we were over there. To be totally honest I didn’t try a lot of it. I’m just a picky person when it comes to food so I just stuck to the basics, little bit of fish and burgers, stuff like that. I didn’t even know what some of the food was.”
Q: How were you treated over there?
“It seemed like a lot of people looked up to us and respected the fact that we were from the USA. A lot of people showed us respect and that really felt good. Some teams seemed like they had a chip on their shoulder or had something to prove when they played against us. Every time we stepped out on the court we had to play our A-game or we weren’t going to win.”
Q: What kind of relationship do you have with Shelvin Mack?
“Oh that’s my buddy. We played in AAU for four or five years, so I’ve known him for a while before we went on the trip. I always stay in touch with him and talk to him; sometimes we talk a little junk to each other.”
Q: What was it like to have a friend like that on the trip?
“I think it made it a lot easier and he ended up being my roommate in New Zealand. Having a friend there even helped the experience, we had a great time.”
Q: How did he play?
“I think he played really well. He held his own and did a really good job.”
Q: Talk about the competition within the team. The fact that you’re from Kentucky, did people want to take you on? Although you were representing USA did you feel like you were representing UK?
“Yeah there was definitely trash talking during practices and around the hotel, nothing real serious, we were just joking with each other. We definitely were all there representing our schools, not only our country.”
Q: Did they ask you lots of questions about your new coach?
“Not really, we didn’t talk about that a lot. It was more just how everyone was looking and things like that.”
Q: Why do you think they chose Shelvin Mack?
“I think they chose Shelvin because he really stepped up and was being a leader at Butler. He was a vocal leader and leading them during practice. He did a real good job. Like I said he was playing really great, especially on the way over there, like when we were practicing and getting ready I think he really stepped up and I think that’s why they chose him.”
Q: What does the concept of having a Team USA jersey mean to you?
“I think it will mean a lot to me. In fact, I already gave it to my mom and she is supposed to get it framed already. I think she will hold on to it and display it in the house.”
Q: How anxious are you to get back working with (your UK teammates)?
“I’m real anxious. It seems like almost everybody is in town. So I am anxious to get started and play with the team. I am just ready to get the team together and to figure out how everyone is going to be. I’m just ready for the season.”
Q: What can you tell about players from pick-up games?
“I think you can really tell whether a player has talent from a pick-up game. I don’t think you can really tell how he will do during the season because that’s a different scenario. I’m definitely impressed with all of the new incoming players. I think they’re going to do a really good job. They have a lot of talent and I think everyone meshes well together. It seems like everyone is getting along and having fun so I think that will be a great asset to the team.”
Q: Do you feel a little bit out of the loop after being gone so long?
“Not really. I’ve been in touch with most of them, so it seems like I was here the whole time with them.”
Q: What’s it like seeing all of these new recruits come in and wonder what your role will be?
“I think it makes the team a lot better. I think we will have really competitive practices. Like I said, we have a lot of talent on this team so I think if everybody works hard every single day and goes at each other and tries to impress the coach, I think that will make the team even better and help us out in the long run.”
Q: Fans are talking Final Fours and National Championships, what’s your reaction to that?
“I think Kentucky fans will always be like that every single year. I don’t really think that is anything new. We are just going to come out and try to play as hard as we can and get the team together. We’re just going to try to mesh together and hopefully that will come true.”