Portland guard Andre Miller starred at Utah in the 1990s.
WASHINGTON — He has played in the NBA since 1999. He has played in more than 900 games and has more than 6,600 assists as one of the top point guards of his generation.
But for Andre Miller, who has played for several NBA teams and has nearly 15,000 points, his college career at the University of Utah is something he will not forget.
"It was probably the funnest experience of my life," he told the Deseret News in an interview before a game earlier this month in Washington, D.C. "I will take that through anything I have been through in the NBA. That college experience was great. Just being there and being able to interact with people and meet new friends and the campus life, just in general the whole thing."
But what of the 33 playoff games he has played in since he joined the NBA with Cleveland in 1999? That has nothing on his time with the Utes, and he has good memories of his team's 1998 NCAA run even though the Utes lost in the title game under head coach Rick Majerus.
"It was a good experience. I was able to get my degree and I was able to better myself. I took full advantage of the experience," said the soft-spoken Miller, now in his second season with the Portland Trailblazers. "They were the first school to offer me a scholarship and I took it."
Miller, 34 and a native of Los Angeles, played for Cleveland from 1999 to 2002, then played for the Clippers (2002-03), the Nuggets (2003-06) and 76ers (2006-09) before he went to Portland prior to the 2009-10 season.
The Trail Blazers face Utah tonight at 7 inside the Energy Solutions Arena.
He compares the outdoors culture in Oregon to that of Utah. "It is the only franchise out there (in the Northwest) so there is a lot of concentration on basketball. So it is not a bad situation at all," he said.
Last year he played in 82 games for the third year in a row and averaged 14 points and 5.4 assists per game for the Blazers.
Miller keeps in touch with the Utah program and was at the school for about five days this past summer. He also ran into Majerus, his former Utah coach, while in Denver before the NBA season began. Miller also is in contact on a regular basis with Viewmont High grad and former Utah Mr. Basketball Alex Jensen, a former Utah teammate who is now an assistant coach under Majerus at St. Louis.
And Miller is aware that the Utes program has slipped once he and Majerus left.
"It is a new era. They are struggling but they will find a way to get back into the swing of things," Miller said.
Much has changed in college hoops in the 12 years since Miller played, and the abundance of young players in the NBA is one of them. "College guys play and leave early," he said. "They should have a rule that guys stay in college and get their education before they make that jump."
He averaged a career-best 10.9 assists with Cleveland in 2001-02. He ranks on the all-time list in assists and so far this season Miller is averaging 12.9 points and 7.6 assists per game for Portland.
Portland coach Nate McMillan, a former guard in the NBA and at North Carolina State, has been impressed with Miller since he came to the Blazers.
"He has a great basketball IQ," McMillan said. "You can't be that successful if you don't have that IQ."
Miller was suspended on Dec. 7 against Phoenix following a rough game against the Clippers two days earlier where his body-check on Rookie of the Year frontrunner Blake Griffin became a YouTube sensation. The suspension ended his streak of 632 games played in a row.
"I was surprised," Miller told reporters on Dec. 8. "I actually wasn't even notified. I found out toward the evening when I was sleeping that there would be a suspension. It just shows you how soft the league has gotten, protecting young players. It's not like it was when I came in this league."
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"It wasn't justified at all," Miller said of his suspension. "If I was a dirty player that was looking to go out and hurt someone then I can understand 'OK, this guy has a reputation.' Back in the day, like John Stockton, tough-minded player, some people thought he was dirty. He never got suspended for anything. The league has changed. They favor the young guys now and that's just how it is."
So how long does he plan to play against some of those guys?
"I will play until no one team wants me. That is how I see it."
Editor's note: David Driver is a free-lance writer. He can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com