It was fitting that the team’s only four-year player hold the net on Monday night.
Darius Miller’s #1 should be hanging from the rafters in Rupp. There, I said it.
I completely agree with the need to retire jerseys sparingly. The last UK player to have their jersey retired was #24 Jamal Mashburn, who left after three years in 1993. I understand that retiring a jersey should be a very rare occasion, but I think it’s been long enough. Darius deserves to be the next in that prestigious line. It should really only be done for special players, players that mean something not only to the fans, but really the entire Commonwealth. Accordingly, consider that of the thirty-six players to have their numbers retired, twenty are from Kentucky. Darius would make a great candidate to be the thirty-seventh. He was Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball, and also the Gatorade State Player of the Year. Who’s had a better overall Kentucky career than Darius?
His college career, at first glance, doesn’t seem all that impressive. He was never the best player on the team (although, with the teammates he had, that’s not an insult), but his overall numbers are pretty surprising. He was one block and thirteen rebounds from having 1000 points, 500 rebounds, 250 assists, 100 blocks, and 100 steals. That’s a pretty impressive overall stat line for a guy who we called “Disappearius” for almost two years. Consider also that his career shooting percentages are 44.9 inside and 37.8 outside, and you’ve got a consistent four-year player that went to two Final Fours and won a title. Not to mention the SEC Tournament MVP award he picked up last year after demolishing the favored Florida Gators.
I told a friend that I would really like to see Miller’s jersey retired, and he disagreed. I can understand that. Darius was never the go-to guy on the team, and even though I think his talent and poise were invaluable to their success, reasonable minds could differ. This same friend, though, said that he would like to see Anthony Davis’ jersey retired, which I think is patently ridiculous. I’ll be the first to admit that Davis may be the best player to ever put on a Kentucky uniform. That’s a bold statement, but I don’t know that anyone could disprove it. But to me, getting your jersey retired is about more than being the best player. Or maybe it’s about less, depending on how you look at it. I’m of the opinion that no one-year, or even two-year player should ever have their jersey retired. Doesn’t matter how good they are. I don’t want to see an 11 or a 23 hanging up, even if they do belong to two of the best players in modern college basketball. A retired jersey should symbolize a mutual love between the player and the university, and between the player and the fans, that can only be formed over a few years with us. I also think that only players that graduate from UK should be eligible for the honor. That only makes sense; why would the school award a retired jersey for a player they didn’t award a degree?
But ultimately, this is why Miller is perfect: He chose Kentucky when they didn’t look good. He came when very few people would, unlike the recruiting machine that is in place today. His first year was our worst in a couple decades, but that didn’t stop him from wanting to be a Wildcat, no matter what. He was eventually rewarded with great things, and he absolutely deserved them. When Cal and the team arrived at Rupp to celebrate the championship, who did the Coach ask to speak at the podium to the thousands of fans assembled? Who else would he pick besides Darius? If Kentucky is the Commonwealth’s team, Darius is truly the Commonwealth’s Player. He really has been a phenomenal representative of Kentucky residents for each of his four years at UK.
I get that retired jerseys are a rarity, but nineteen years is a long enough time to wait. Throw that #1 jersey up in the rafters, because nobody will wear it with the same respect that Darius Miller gave it.
Edit: ‘3 goggles’ mentioned “Didn’t Miller also play in more games as a Wildcat than any other player?” That’s a great point, and I was going to put that in there, but forgot. Thanks for catching it. Just another reason to honor a great player and young man.