He doesn’t overreact after losses, rarely gets excited after a win and focuses on his program instead of the success of others. Miller lets his senior class lead by example and steers clear of favoritism, a big reason why the Braves — sitting at 18-7 overall — should be in good position when Division II’s southeast region rankings are released later today.
At season’s end, the region’s top eight teams will qualify for the NCAA Tournament. UNCP seeks a return trip to the Big Dance, an invite-only party that ended early for the Braves in 2011.
“That’s where we want to be and the guys know we’re right there,” Miller said Monday. “I think the Peach Belt could have three, maybe four of the region’s top eight teams. The selection process involves strength of schedule, winning percentage and victories against DII schools. There’s also a little bit of wiggle room.
“They’re a little more objective in Division I and I like that, but we just need to worry about ourselves and keep winning.”
UNCP (17-8, 10-5) has won 4-of-5 in February and used a key four-game road stretch last month to put itself in prime position for an at-large bid. Seniors Shahmel Brackett and George Blakeney have filled it up offensively for the Braves during that span while veteran guard K.J. Cooper continues his work as one of the squad’s top defenders.
Blakeney was named the PBC’s Athlete of the Week Monday for double-doubles he recorded in Saturday’s win over North Georgia and Thursday night’s blowout victory against Young Harris. The 6-foot-11 big man is averaging a career-best 14.4 points this season.
“We’ve felt all along that we had as a good a senior group as anyone in the league,” Miller said. “In fact, I wouldn’t trade those three guys for anybody in the country.”
The trio will be honored for their contributions to the program in a pre-game ceremony on March 2 before UNCP’s home finale against USC Aiken. Before that though, the Braves will try and wrap-up a PBC Tournament and more importantly, NCAA Tournament bid, over three games against Armstrong Atlantic, Flager and Francis Marion.
“It’s neat to see those guys have this kind of success,” Miller said. “While they know we’ve played pretty well so far, our veterans understand that our best basketball is coming if we continue to work hard and get better.”
At home, UNCP has been especially proficient this season with 11 wins in 12 games. Since a disappointing Sunday afternoon loss to Georgia Southwestern in January, the Braves have ran off four straight at the Jones Center by an average of 17.3 points per game.
UNCP leads the PBC in home attendance.
“We’re starting to create an environment where visiting teams aren’t really comfortable to play here,” Miller said. “In years past, maybe that wasn’t the case. The guys are feeding off the energy our crowd provides and the fans have hung in there and kept cheering.”
Miller pointed out a segment during Saturday’s win over North Georgia during which the Braves trailed by 10 points following a series of empty possessions and sloppy defense at the other end. He credited his team’s drive to get back in the game to the fans.
“The community’s continued support has really helped our program,” Miller said. “Even when we’re down, the fans don’t give up and our players appreciate that.”
Sampson, Gallagher appear during All-Star Weekend
More than 50 former UNCP players were on campus over the weekend for the Braves’ alumni basketball game, a contest that featured the school’s all-time leading scorer Joe Gallagher and current Houston Rockets assistant Kelvin Sampson among several others.
Howard McCloud, one of UNCP’s first African-American players, joined the fun along with former athletic director Dan Kenney who was honored for his years of service to university athletics.
“It meant a lot to our current players and our fans,” Miller said. “We had a really good time.”