Harvard frosh Corbin Miller stepping up

January, 27, 2012
1/27/12
6:29
PM ET
The secret’s out.

If Corbin Miller was able to sneak up on opponents early this season, coming off the bench for the No. 23 Harvard Crimson, he won’t be able to anymore.

Not after performances like the one he had this past Saturday at Dartmouth. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound freshman bounced off the bench and poured in a game-high 13 points, on 5-for-6 shooting including 3-for-4 from behind the arc, in a 54-38 Harvard win.

“We think the world of him and we missed him when he was out,” Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker said. “We’re thrilled to have him back.”

Miller missed three games with a thumb injury, and clearly wasn’t the same in a fourth game, the Crimson’s surprising 60-54 loss at Fordham.

Why is it so important for a Top 25 team to have a player averaging 3.9 points per game at its disposal? Maybe because those points come in an average of 8.2 minutes per contest.

As he demonstrated at Dartmouth -- a performance that earned him Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors -- Miller can fill it up in a hurry. In fact, if he had enough shots to qualify, his 3-point shooting percentage of 59.3 would rank in the top 10 in the country.

But that’s not the only reason Amaker & Co. like him so much.

“He’s been a joy to coach, first of all,” Amaker said. “He’s learned our system very well and quite quickly. I’ve been impressed with Corbin’s competitiveness. He’s a competitive kid and I think that has really allowed him to earn the respect of his teammates and allowed him to be in a position to be in our rotation and to be playing valuable minutes.

“And I think he’s a very confident player. I think he’s a kid that believes when he’s out there that he belongs and that he’s capable. He steps up in big moments and is not afraid to take a big shot and certainly has made some for us.”

[+] EnlargeOliver McNally, Corbin Miller
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireHarvard freshman Corbin Miller, left, has impressed senior PG and co-captain Oliver McNally.
Senior co-captain Oliver McNally has seen that fearlessness, too. The freshman’s development has been a welcome one for McNally and backcourt mate Brandyn Curry, who weren’t sure what kind of help they’d have this season.

“I think he got going in the [Battle 4] Atlantis tournament, hit some big shots,” McNally said. “Back then it was kinda he was coming in and hitting big shots, and [he] didn’t look as comfortable being a point guard, being a leader.”

That’s changed, as was apparent to McNally at the end of the game at Dartmouth.

“I was saying, ‘Go ahead, take the ball’ in late-clock situations, and [he was] leading huddles and things like that,” he said.

“I think he’s really coming into his own … he was such a dominant, successful high school player, he’s starting to channel that on the college level.”

“I think his future is incredibly bright,” Amaker said. “I wish we had him.”

Though he’s just beginning to find his rhythm at this level, the Crimson have known from the beginning that the Sandy, Utah, native will leave Cambridge after this season to go on his two-year Mormon mission.

“It’s really who I am,” Miller said, explaining why fulfilling the mission is important to him, “the things that I’ll be doing and being able to go out and serve other people and share a message that brings joy to my life. It’s always just been something that’s very important to me and a big part of my life.”

He made no secret of that fact during his recruitment. Despite a good hoops pedigree -- his grandfather, Larry Miller, played at UNLV, his father Bret Miller played at Bellevue and BYU-Hawaii and his cousin Nathan Miller played at Weber State -- Miller wasn’t a top prospect. But he did have other options -- reportedly including Arizona State, Boston College, BYU, Gonzaga, Stanford and Utah.

Amaker said he made it clear to Miller and his parents that though the Crimson hadn’t had a basketball player in the same situation as the youngster before, the university had and there would be a clear plan in place for handling the mission. That made the Millers comfortable with Harvard as a candidate, and when Corbin visited campus he was sold.

“I really liked the school, obviously, but Coach Amaker was great, I visited and met the guys on the team, and really enjoyed the team,” Miller said. “The program, the style of play had a good feel to it, and I just felt it was the best fit for me.”

It definitely helped that Amaker was open to having and then not having him.

“Coach was very supportive of it, which was huge for me,” Miller said. “A lot of people don’t really understand how it works.”

That hurdle passed, Miller committed and the early returns have been positive for both sides. His shooting ability has translated to the next level, and he’s showing more abilities in other areas than Amaker said he expected.

“He’s handled the ball a little better than I thought he would against pressure,” he said. “His foot speed is a little bit better than I thought it was watching him in high school. I’ve been very pleased with who he is and how he’s developed into a valuable member of this team.”

Miller said he’s just working hard, trying to learn from playing against McNally and Curry in practice and attempting to fill the role the coaches ask him to fill.

“[I need to] just keep developing, getting used to the college game and learning how to make quicker decisions and help lead when I’m in,” he said.

When the thumb injury sidelined him, McNally said it hurt the Crimson.

“We missed that presence coming off the bench,” he said. “Our bench is gonna be really important for us and he’s definitely a big part of that.”

While that might have been a secret before it certainly is no more.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

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