As his high school basketball career ended last February, Will Miller had never heard of Mount St. Mary’s University. And the anonymity was mutual.
A year later, the former Highland Park standout is a starting guard for an NCAA Division I program, sharing a court with national powerhouses from Michigan State, Villanova, and BYU.
Miller emerged from recruiting obscurity though a connection in the coaching world that eventually led to him getting a scholarship offer from the small liberal-arts school in Emmitsburg, Md., a rural town of modest size near the Pennsylvania border.
“They contacted me really late,” Miller said. “I always wanted to play Division I ball if I could, so this opportunity was really huge.”
The opportunity came through a chance phone call between Mount St. Mary’s head coach Jamion Christian and Eric Cunningham, a former Highland Park assistant coach. The two coaches became acquainted when Christian was an assistant coach at William & Mary and was responsible for recruiting in Texas.
Christian was trying to recruit some other players in Dallas when Cunningham suggested he look at Miller, a 6-foot-6 sharpshooter who played just one season at the varsity level for the Scots.
The second-year coach saw potential for Miller — who averaged about 11 points per game at HP during the 2012-13 season — to be an ideal fit for his up-tempo offensive scheme that emphasizes outside shooting.
“Obviously because we shoot a ton of threes at the Mount, his ability fits us perfectly,” Christian said. “But his coachability has allowed him to make an impact so immediately.”
Through Feb. 13, Miller averaged 5.9 points per game and was second on the team in three-point shooting despite only being on the floor for 17.3 minutes per game. Of his 114 field-goal attempts this season, all but nine have come from beyond the three-point arc.
“Coach has told me that my role is a three-point shooter,” Miller said. “Having this role for my freshman year has been good. In the next three years, Coach may increase my role to other things.”
Miller was inserted into the starting lineup in late January, which coincided with a three-game winning streak for the Mountaineers in Northeast Conference play.
“He has a hunger and passion for the game to improve each day,” Christian said. “He came to us with only one year of true varsity basketball experience, but through the recruiting process I knew from day one that he was a special person with a work ethic that any coach would love to have.”
Miller said the transition to college basketball has been challenging, and not just because the players are stronger and the pace is faster than high school.
“I think it’s going well. It was probably the hardest transition I’ve had to deal with in my life,” Miller said. “Basketball takes almost double the time that school does. It’s been a big adjustment to that.”
He made quite an impact during a nationally televised Nov. 29 game at Michigan State, when Miller knocked down five 3-pointers in the first half and was featured in highlights later that night on ESPN.
His 15 points against the nationally-ranked Spartans marked a season best that he tied on Jan. 3 against Norfolk State.
“I just lit up. I watched it probably five times. I had to call somebody and tell them,” Miller said of the ESPN snippet. “My parents had the same reaction I had.”
At Highland Park, Miller was on the freshman “B” team four years ago but improved steadily, earning all-district honors as a senior.
“The strides that he made in his four years here were amazing,” said HP head coach David Piehler. “He’s a great shooter. That’s his strength and he perfected that. He put the time and effort into it.”
Christian said Miller should continue to improve thanks to a combination of solid work ethic and mental toughness.
“We’re looking for versatility on our roster. I think his role is definitely going to be able to expand here as he continues to improve,” Christian said. “He said he would do anything I asked him to do. Finding those who have the right personality and mental makeup is hard. He has enough talent, but his makeup is what is going to allow him to be a good player for a long time.”
Last season, the Mountaineers gained momentum by finishing 18-14 and reaching the finals of the Northeast Conference tournament. This year’s tournament begins Tuesday, with the winner receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“I’m really excited about our chances this year,” Miller said. “I think we have a good chance to build this program to something that everyone will know about.”