Miller's game has faith and humility
This story appeared in the Greater Atlanta edition of the December ESPN RISE Magazine.
The Georgia Pistols Gold AAU team was in need of a spark.
Facing a talented Georgia Elite squad that featured future prep standouts Ka'Vonne Towns (Berkmar) and Alex Abraham (Paideia) in the 11-and-under finals, the Pistols needed someone to step up on the offensive end.
Enter Khaalidah Miller.
The precocious guard not only provided the spark, she engulfed the opposition in an inferno of 3-point bombs. Miller buried long-range shots from all over the court to keep the Pistols close.
"We couldn't do anything to stop her," says former Georgia Elite coach John Reeves. "We had no answer for her."
The Pistols eventually lost, but Miller canned 10 treys, announcing her arrival on the Greater Atlanta girls' hoops scene.
Miller is now a 5-foot-10 senior at Douglass (Atlanta, Ga.), and she has continued to amaze on the hardwood. After leading the Astros to the Final Four as a freshman, the two-time Class AAAAA All-State guard has taken Douglass to the Elite Eight and Sweet 16 in successive seasons. Miller has emerged as the state's top player in the Class of 2010 and the nation's No. 36 recruit in the ESPNU HoopGurlz 100.
"She's like Kobe (Bryant)," says senior teammate Cheryl Wade. "She scores whenever she wants and can take anybody off the dribble. She's the total package."
Even with all of her accolades, Miller remains humble and always remembers to give thanks for her talent. That's why after her 3-point barrage with the Pistols, she pointed to the stands at her mother and then pointed toward the sky.
"I was giving thanks to God for all of my ability," Miller says of the gesture she regularly makes on the court. "I'll do it if I hit a real big shot or we win a big game."
While Miller doesn't wear traditional Muslim attire or preach religion to her teammates, her faith has kept her grounded even as she's soared to new heights on the court.
"I think her knowing it was a power greater than her that gave her that ability, I think it keeps her level and humble," says Miller's father, Willie, who coaches the Pistols. "Her attitude and mannerism never changes. That's God working through her."
Growing up in a household with a Christian mother and a father who practices Islam, the Bible and Quran have been as important to her hoops career as her Nike high tops and her trademark jumper. Khaalidah -- whose name is Arabic for "ones who grow old and retain their beauty and love for God" -- often reads the Quran during rides to school with her father and frequently reads the Bible at home.
"She puts God first in her life," says Douglass head coach Vernise Harris-Hill. "She has a pattern her family follows."
Miller, who also runs cross country in the fall, fasts daily during the month of Ramadan, breaking around 3 p.m. to gather strength for practices and meets. On Friday nights, she attends services at either the Masjid Al-Muminum or Al-Ihsaan mosque with her father, while Sunday mornings are spent at the United Mission Church of God and Christ with her mother.
"Our children are raised to choose their own way," says her father. "The Bible and Quran sit side by side. They are exposed to each (religion). But everyone knows there's one God, and he's running the show."
Over the past three years, it's been Miller running the show at Douglass.
She exploded onto the high school scene as a 13-year-old freshman, buoying a strong Astros lineup with her deft outside shooting.
Due in large part to her age, Miller was caught off guard by her promotion to the varsity team and voiced her concerns to her father.
"At first I didn't want to play varsity," she says. "I told my dad, 'I can't play varsity my freshman year.' He looked at me like I was crazy and said I was playing varsity or nothing."
Harris-Hill reiterated her confidence in Miller, plugging her into the starting lineup in the team's opener against North Atlanta. Before taking the court, the squad huddled up and said a prayer, a regular practice before tipoff. Miller was still nervous as play commenced, but the nerves disappeared after she scored her first point.
That year, Miller and current Auburn guard Morgan Jennings ran an up-tempo offense predicated on Jennings' ability to knife through the defense and find Miller for outside jumpers. Miller flourished in the role.
"She fit in well," says Harris-Hill. "She hit the ground running, but she respected the players she was surrounded with."
Miller and Jennings collaborated on a run to the state Elite Eight the next season, with Miller upping her average from 13.9 to 16.4 points a contest. After Jennings graduated in 2008, Harris-Hill handed the reins to Miller, who guided Douglass to the Sweet 16 last year. She flawlessly transitioned to the team's No. 1 scoring option, pouring in 21.9 points per contest and surpassing the 1,500-point plateau as a junior.
Equally adept at shooting from the perimeter and slashing to the basket, Miller is producing optimism for a run at a state title in 2009-10.
"I'm hoping to see her take over this year," says Harris-Hill. "She will do what it takes to win the game. She wants the ball when the clock is at nine seconds, three seconds, one second."
At press time, Miller, who has also laced up her kicks for the Georgia Metros AAU squad, was undecided on her collegiate plans but had trimmed her list to Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, UAB and Rutgers.
No matter her next destination, Miller will have her Nikes, Bible and Quran packed for the ride.
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