By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — As a basketball-crazed boy growing up in the small town of Princeton, West Virginia, Jimmy Miller used to pretend he was a radio announcer when he played in the driveway.
Later, when his playing career ended and he was considering his next move, “there was a part of me that wanted to get into this profession,” Miller recalled last week.
He chose another career path instead, and he’s now the founder, president and CEO of the Miller Financial Group in Charlottesville. But Miller, a former University of Virginia standout, will get his opportunity to talk hoops on the air this season. He’ll be working alongside play-by-play announcer Dave Koehn as the analyst on Virginia Sports Network radio broadcast of UVA games.
Miller replaces another former UVA big man, Ted Jeffries, who worked as the analyst for six seasons. Jeffries had to give up the position this year because of a conflict with his job.
“I’m really excited,” Miller said, “to go from being a player to now having the opportunity to kind of sit in that seat all these years later and see that part of it, from really a different lens than just as a fan.
“The passion is there, and so I’m hopeful that I can be a student and kind of learn that craft. While I don’t have a lot of experience in radio, but I hope to be able to convey my personal experience, life experience, from what I’ve seen of the game in general and seen of Virginia basketball specifically up close for 35 years.”
Miller, who played for Terry Holland, has followed the program during the tenures of Holland’s successors: Jeff Jones, Pete Gillen, Dave Leitao and Tony Bennett. Miller has had season tickets at John Paul Jones Arena throughout the Bennett era at UVA, which started in 2009.
Under Bennett, the Wahoos have posted a 188-83 record. UVA has advanced to the NCAA tournament in five of the past six seasons and won the ACC title in 2014. Like so many others, Miller marveled at Virginia’s success under Bennett.
“I’ve gotten to know Tony and his staff fairly well since their time of being here,” Miller said, “and that started from when they first got here, from me just reaching out as a former player, saying, `Hey, I’m local. If there’s anything I can ever do to help you with his transition, please don’t hesitate to call.’
“So it started with that, and it’s evolved. I’ve been fortunate to be able to be a fan of basketball and to love the University of Virginia and to see it up close over those years, and see how certainly it’s evolved from when he first got here to where it is today.”
Miller, who’s also a renowned magician, graduated from UVA in 1985 with a bachelor’s in psychology. In his four seasons as a Cavalier, Miller scored 1,218 points, which ranks No. 36 in program history. As a junior in 1984, he was named the MVP of the NCAA tournament’s East Regional after helping the `Hoos reach the Final Four.
A sixth-round draft choice of the Utah Jazz in 1985, Miller played professionally in Europe, in Austria and Spain. Then he returned to the United States to play for the Charleston (West Virginia) Gunners in the late, great Continental Basketball Association.
“I felt like if I was lucky and in the right place at the right time, I’d get a break and maybe could make an NBA squad,” Miller said. “So I felt like I needed to be visible, so I came back and played in the old CBA.
“That was fun. It was different. I can tell you, guys don’t play in that league to make any money.”
Miller was an assistant at Randolph-Macon College under head coach Hal Nunnally (who died in 2004). “Those were challenging times in many ways looking back,” he said, “but a growing experience for me.”
Around 1990, a longtime friend presented him with a business opportunity, and Miller returned to Charlottesville. He’s been here ever since.
Miller and his wife, Rachel, have two children.
STATE OF THE ART: A construction project that will transform the men’s locker room and team spaces at JPJ is nearing completion.
The arena, which opened in 2006, remains one of the finest in college basketball, Bennett said, “but the locker room hadn’t been touched, and there was an opportunity to be more efficient in using the space.
“We felt like it was important, for our players and for recruiting, to really revamp the locker room and put an emphasis on the nutrition piece and a rest-and-recovery space. We have some unique things in there that we think will be helpful for our [current] players and for future players.”
The project includes nutrition stations, a film room, a study area, rest-and-recovery station, and a players’ lounge, as well as a redesigned locker room.
“It’s going to be beautiful,” Bennett said. “We’ve got the arena, which is incredible, and updating the locker room will make it really special for our guys, and it’s a recruiting tool as well.”
NEW HOO VISION: Fans at John Paul Jones Arena will notice significant changes this season, most notably a new, huge scoreboard/videoboard over the court.
The videoboards used since the arena opened in 2006 were approximately 9 feet tall and 16 feet wide. The new boards are about 14 feet tall and 25 feet wide. Moreover, their display will be true high definition, and the resolution will be significantly better than on the previous videoboards.
This is believed to the first videoboard in a college on-campus college arena with a pixel pitch of 4 millimeters. Pixel pitch measures the distance between the LED pixels. The lower the number, the higher the resolution. The pixel pitch of the original videoboards was 10mm.
Also new is the main court at JPJ. It’s made by Connor Sports, which provides the courts for the NCAA tournament’s Final Four.
The Cavaliers will be playing on new baskets, too. These, made by Spalding, are designed to provide more space on the baseline for players to land and to improve sightlines for fans sitting behind the baskets.
FIRST LOOK:The third annual Pepsi Blue-White intrasquad scrimmage is set for Sunday at 3 p.m. Meet the Teams Day with both the men’s and women’s basketball teams will follow the scrimmage.
JPJ’s doors will open at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, and admission and parking are free. Fans can also watch the scrimmage online through ACC Network Extra on ESPN3.com.
Virginia opens the season Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. against UNC Greensboro at JPJ. Season tickets for men’s home games are sold out for the third consecutive season.
Last week, the on-sale dates for a limited number of single-game tickets were announced. The first on-sale date is Friday, Oct. 27 for the home games vs. UNCG, Davidson (Dec. 16), Savannah State (Dec. 19) and Hampton (Dec. 22).
A pre-sale opportunity for Virginia Athletics Foundation donors for these games starts on Monday, Oct. 23. A complete list of on-sale dates is available here.
FULL SPEED AHEAD: Late last season, Isaiah Wilkins contracted a mysterious illness that hindered him throughout the ACC and NCAA tournaments. Wilkins originally thought he might have strep throat, but treatment and rest failed to improve his symptoms, and the 6-7 forward played only five minutes in the NCAA tourney: all in Virginia’s first-round win over UNC Wilmington.
He’s healthy again, but it’s been a long process. After the season ended — UVA lost to Florida in the second round of the NCAAs — Wilkins rested when his teammates began spring workouts.
The medical staff “sat me for about a month after the season ended,” WIlkins recalled last week on a VirginiaSports.com podcast. “And I had lost 30, 35 pounds, so I was just slowly trying to get back. I was being monitored closely.”
He’s gained most of that weight back. Wilkins weighed in last week at 227 pounds, “which is perfect,” he said. “During the season I end up losing two or three pounds, so I’ll be right around 225, which is where I want to be.”
As a junior, Wilkins led the Cavaliers in rebounds, blocked shots and steals and made the ACC’s all-defensive team. He’s improved offensively over the course of his college career, but that’s never been the focal part of his game.
“I think that since my first year I’ve considered myself an energy guy, and I don’t think that ever goes away,” Wilkins said. “Obviously I’ve been working on offense and defense, but energy travels, something like that can spark us.”
If Wilkins is the most vocal UVA player during practice, sophomore guard Ty Jerome isn’t far behind.
Jerome missed a couple of practices this month, “and I was having my way,” Wilkins said, smiling, “because nobody was really screaming back, and he got back and just started screaming. So I definitely appreciate that.”
MELTING POT: UVA’s roster includes players from Virginia, Texas, Georgia, New Jersey, New York, Indiana, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, as well as three from foreign countries: New Zealand (Jack Salt), Guinea (Mamadi Diakite) and Italy (Francesco Badocchi).
Wilkins, who grew up in the Atlanta area, said the players regularly discuss current events.
“I think we do that every single day, whether it be in the locker room, [where] somebody will bring something up, or after practice, [when] we all go to my house and play video games,” Wilkins said. “We just get to talking and kind of expressing ourselves and telling things that we know, because we’re all from different backgrounds, just try to figure things out among ourselves.
“It just gives you a lot of background, a lot of perspective. Jack may not know what’s going on when something wild happens [in the United States], and we can sit down and talk about it and just try to understand each other more.”
SETTING THE STANDARD: The five pillars of Bennett’s program are familiar to UVA fans: unity, passion, thankfulness, humility and servanthood. The team’s veterans, who this season include Wilkins, Salt, who’s a redshirt junior, graduate student Devon Hall, help instill those values in the Cavaliers’ younger players.
“I think we try to lead by example,” Wilkins said, “and if something comes up then we’ll talk about it. I learned from Malcolm [Brogdon] and Anthony [Gill] and those guys and watched how they were and they never got in trouble, never heard anything bad [said] about them.
“They were out here being nice to people, taking the time out of their day to do different things, just because they know that they have this platform. I think that’s where it starts. Hopefully you leave a good impression and it carries on forever.”
Bennett’s recruiting philosophy helps, said Wilkins, who noted as much in a recent conversation with Ronnie Wideman, UVA’s associate athletics director for men’s basketball.
Wilkins said he told Wideman “how much I appreciate how much [Bennett] looks into character [in the recruiting process]. It pays off so much.”