It’s North Carolina State against Virginia in the ACC Tournament. Archie Miller puts up a long 3. Swish. On TV, Billy Packer is distraught. Why is Virginia giving Miller room to shoot? he cries. Miller can’t do anything but shoot. So Virginia should keep a man right on him. True? Next time down, Miller’s forced to pass off. Then there’s another pass, and another as a teammate cuts into the lane. And the teammate passes off, and the Virginia defense is completely scrambled now, so that when State makes one more quick pass–it’s to an open Miller for 3! This is killing Billy, but it is a thing of beauty to me.
I’ve been watching Archie Miller for five years, including the one medical redshirt year. He is, at most, 5-feet-8. He is also slow and scrawny. I’m not going to pretend that I predicted his success in spite of these handicaps. Quite the contrary, I said the Wolfpack would never go anywhere with him on the floor because he wasn’t quick enough. Like Billy Packer, though, I forgot the two most important things about college basketball: (1) It’s a team game; and (2) The teams are young and volatile, so leadership is critical.
Until this year, Miller and fellow guard Anthony Grundy were on teams with others players who, while not bad individually, did not complement them or each other. This year, they were joined by a new group of faster, if smaller, players. The result: A different style that makes the most of Miller’s quick-shooting talent and covers up much better for his liabilities. It’s also a completely different team that feeds off Miller’s best attribute, his willpower.
By trial-and-error, Miller has figured out exactly how to position himself defensively and offensively to get the most out of his game, a process that has been conducted in front of 20,000 fans who’ve seen him get beat, and try again … and get beat, and try again … and so on and so forth until somehow this year, he wasn’t getting beat so much, and he was getting many more open shots.
Because it’s a team game, Miller couldn’t reckon his own best positioning without knowing exactly where his teammates should be–and how they should move–both in relation to him and to each other. This knowledge Miller conveyed to them loudly and repeatedly by squawking, pointing, nagging and scowling. It was almost funny, except that halfway though the year it became obvious to everyone that when Miller was on the floor, liabilities and all, the Pack was a much better team than when he was on the bench.
With the greatest respect for Grundy’s acrobatic brilliance, the main reason the Pack is an NCAA team today, a team good enough to beat Virginia and Maryland before losing to Duke, is that Miller put himself in charge, and his teammates accepted that he was in charge. He squawked, they followed, and they learned together how to be more than the sum of their imperfect parts.
You can root for Duke if you like. But how much fun is it to watch five guys who could be in the NBA, and will be soon, beat lesser players? I know there’s no way the Pack’s going anywhere in the NCAA. But if they do, Billy, it’l help that Archie can really shoot–and sometimes you just can’t stop him.