Andre Miller has made numerous visits to Utah as an opposing NBA player while wearing jerseys of five different teams.
But it is still significant for the former Ute to return to the state where he starred as a college basketball player and helped lead Utah to a berth in the NCAA national championship game in 1998. The memories he made and relationships he built while at the U. still make returning to Utah a special experience.
"Always," Miller said. "This is where I got my opportunity to get an education and play sports. I was able to get a degree, made a lot of friends. It was just probably the best experience of my life."
Miller has built on the outstanding experience he had in Utah, and had a steady and solid NBA career. He was the No. 8 overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 1999 draft. He also played for the Clippers, Nuggets and 76ers.
No, Miller isn't a flashy, high flyer who is going to be featured on SportsCenter every night. In his 12th season in the NBA, Miller just does everything the right way. He doesn't miss games — unless he retaliates against the Clippers' Blake Griffin after some rough play.
Miller, who has career averages of 14.4 points and 7.2 assists per game, is appreciated by those who know basketball.
"I think he's a tremendous player," said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin. "I love his veteran leadership, as a point guard, and the fact that he can control tempo for his team. He has a tremendous understanding of the importance of situations and having a sense of urgency or a lack thereof. He kicks the ball to the right guy in the right situation. He's a true point, and very effective for his team."
Miller reached a milestone while in Utah. He dished his 7,000th career assist in the first quarter of Portland's 98-87 victory over the Jazz on Thursday night. Miller, who is 14th all-time among NBA assist leaders, said he never thought about reaching such heights. Among active players, only Jason Kidd (second) and Steve Nash (sixth) are ahead of him among all-time assists leaders.
"I really didn't even think about it," Miller said. "I just take it one day at a time basically. I just wanted to come in and have a solid career, that's all. I think I just wanted to be involved, wanted to be on the court, wanted to be involved in practice. I don't like to take days off. I take pride in it. If I can practice, I'll be able to play in the game."
Days off have been a rarity for Miller, who has truly been an ironman during his NBA career. He has never played in fewer than 80 games in a regular season, and he'll keep that streak going this year. He had played in 632 consecutive games from the 2002-03 season until December of 2010.
Miller's streak ended not due to an injury, but because of an incident between the former Ute and Griffin. It is captured in a popular YouTube video that has more than 283,000 views. In it, Griffin is shown pushing Miller on both ends of the floor before Miller evened the score with some physical play. He got suspended one game for delivering a football-style shoulderblock to Griffin and knocking him to the floor.
It was an unfortunate way to end Miller's streak when he was just showing a rookie he wasn't going to be pushed around. Miller had the longest consecutive games played streak going in the league at the time.
"He doesn't miss games," Corbin said. "He's a gym rat, and I didn't know that about him. He really loves to play the game. It's funny how those guys have great careers because they just love playing the game so much."
Miller has helped guide the Trail Blazers to another playoff berth. Portland has obviously been helped by signing Wesley Matthews as a free agent, acquiring Gerald Wallace just before the trade deadline and a big breakout year from LaMarcus Aldridge.
"Everybody has played a part," Miller said. "It's been a good, collective team effort."
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But it is Miller who runs the show and provides veteran leadership, just like he did when he played up on the hill.
"He's just been really good for us," said Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan. "He's been pretty consistent, very productive for us. He's the guy who's leading the team out on the floor. I think he's done a better job this year with the group because he's more familiar with the team and with what I want as far as our goals and what we're looking to do. He's been able to bring that to the floor."