- The Washington Times - Friday, December 6, 2002

SOUTH BEND, Ind. Danny Miller admits that part of him wishes he were on the Maryland team that won the national championship the season after he left. But he passed on a chance at the sport's greatest prize to pursue his own basketball dream.

Miller, who played at Maryland for three seasons and helped the Terrapins to their first Final Four in 2001, now is reinventing his game after transferring to Notre Dame for his final year. He will play against his former team tomorrow when the Fighting Irish meet the ninth-ranked Terps in the BB&T Classic at MCI Center.

The 6-foot-8 small forward has found contentment in South Bend, where he is playing the role he envisioned when he left New Jersey as a McDonald's All-American five years ago. The former sixth man at Maryland is a starter and featured scorer. Miller, who was never an animated player and kept to himself in College Park, is surprisingly at ease discussing his departure.

"I have no regrets at all," said Miller, who saw his playing time severely cut in his last season with the Terps. "I had one year left, and I was like, 'I'm not the player I know I can be.' I just wasn't comfortable. I wasn't enjoying myself. We were a great team. I should have been enjoying myself. This is a clean slate."

Thus far, he is making the most of his opportunity after sitting out last season because of NCAA transfer rules. Miller spent Monday night showcasing his skills as Notre Dame upset No.13 Marquette, 92-71. He scored 20 points, made four of seven 3-pointers and had seven rebounds, three assists and two steals in 37 minutes.

Miller is averaging 17.0 points after getting 4.8 points and 19 minutes a game in his final season with the Terps.

"You saw a lot of glimpses of what I was capable of doing at Maryland," Miller said. "I don't think you ever really saw it all come together there."

Miller likes being counted on to score; that was not part of his role with the Terps, where he was more of a defensive and rebounding specialist. He believes Notre Dame's freelance offense is better suited to him than Maryland's more structured flex offense.

Though Miller was a major contributor to the Terps making the Final Four in his junior season and shut down Stanford star Casey Jacobsen in the West Region final, he was unfulfilled. There was, however, some passing feelings watching his old team win it all last season.

"I was happy for those guys," Miller said. "I would have loved to have been there in March. It would have been great, but I don't know if I would have liked from October to February."

Miller thought he was losing confidence in his game his final season at Maryland, and would look over his shoulder when he missed a shot and hesitate to shoot again. He also believes splitting time with Byron Mouton, who replaced him as the starter in the fifth game of the season, hurt both of them because neither was fully comfortable in the shared role.

Now he is much more self-assured knowing he will get starter's minutes and is expected to create and score. The 22-year old has weathered criticism that he abandoned the Terps and put his own interests over the program's.

"It was a lot of things that added up that made me say, 'I just don't want to be here anymore,'" he said. "People said I was being selfish or being greedy and things like that. It's all about 'do you want to be happy or not?' I wanted to be happy when I'm playing, and I'm not going to sit through it if I'm not happy."

Miller has grown up both physically and emotionally since the move. Because he couldn't play last season, he spent extra time lifting weights and has turned body fat into muscle on his 225-pound frame.

Miller will get his degree in sociology one year after he would have graduated had he stayed at Maryland. He sees the delay as well worth it to enjoy his final season and lead the Irish to a third consecutive NCAA appearance. He hopes showing all his skills will draw interest from professional teams, and that will help him pursue a pro career overseas if the NBA doesn't work out.

The switch to Notre Dame was relatively easy. Irish coach Mike Brey had coached Miller's brother, Greg, at Delaware before getting the Notre Dame job before the 2000-01 season. Danny used to come home to Mount Holly, N.J., and play pickup basketball with his older brother's team. Brey learned of Danny's discontent in conversations with Greg and began assessing Danny should he leave Maryland.

Brey knew his team would lose key veterans after last season and needed senior leadership. Brey also was used to dealing with transfers from his time at Delaware and was more comfortable with the one-year plan than most coaches because he had lost a player in a similar manner. He was a young assistant to Mike Krzyzewski at Duke in 1991 when top reserve Billy McCaffrey left after his junior season.

"He played 24 minutes a game," Brey said. "He was All-Final Four, and we had just won the national championship. A week later, he comes in and says he's transferring. I couldn't believe it. He went to Vanderbilt and was SEC Player of the Year. He played the way he wanted to play."

Duke went on to win the 1992 title without McCaffrey.

"Sometimes it's just not a good fit," Brey said. "You can say all you want about being a 'team guy.' At some point, some guys want to do more. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Obviously here, we need Dan to play 34 minutes and be an offensive weapon as well as a defender and a rebounder. I think he likes being a captain and bringing along the younger guys."

Miller remains close to his former teammates, and speaks to Steve Blake several times a week. But there is a strain between Maryland coach Gary Williams and his former player. Williams declined to speak about Miller and the reasons for his departure. The two ran into each other at the wedding of former Maryland center Mike Mardesich over the summer.

"I said hello to him," Miller said. "He wasn't happy to see me go. It's one of those things where you cross paths, but you are not that great of friends. You just say hello."

The pair plan to treat tomorrow like any other game despite the unusual situation.

"It's Maryland against Notre Dame," Williams said. "Not one [person] against another."

Miller is looking forward to seeing old friends, but is also braced for a harsh reaction from the pro-Maryland crowd at MCI Center.

"I will probably be booed," Miller said. "The people that boo are usually louder than the ones that support you."

He knows it will be strange to look at the opposing bench and see his former coach and face players in the uniform he used to proudly wear. The former Terp will even have to fight some instincts when he hears Williams shouting from the sideline.

"Hopefully, I won't run over there," Miller said.

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