Work in Sports
Georgia's Miller twins are double trouble for opponents
Posted: Sunday November 14, 1999 04:44 PM
By Franz Lidz
Andy Landers, the coach of Georgia's women's basketball team, was watching his starting guards, Coco and Kelly Miller, practice in Stegeman Coliseum in 1997. Striding downcourt side by side in identical red uniforms, wearing identical white knee pads and sporting identical brown ponytails, the identical twins looked, as usual, like matched thoroughbreds. They were stationed perhaps 50 feet apart when Landers heard one mumble to the other in a language only they could understand. He recalls Kelly (or was that Coco?) whispering, "Babadep shalaka glibbidyglob." He recalls Coco (or was it Kelly?), without so much as a sidelong glance, whispering back something like, "Shalalal billabilla glibbidyglub." Then one sister sprinted to the hoop while the other flicked a perfect no-look pass to her.
"It was almost telepathic," says Landers, who still recalls the fleeting feeling of vertigo he experienced. "No actual words were spoken, no signals exchanged. Kelly and Coco have been playing together for so long that they can sense each other's presence on the floor. They've trained themselves to communicate in ways the rest of us can't."
Lady Bulldogs opponents have been seeing double and hearing double-talk for two seasons now. In their freshman year the Millers averaged 33.5 points between them as Georgia won 17 games. Kelly led the Lady Bulldogs in assists, steals and scoring while Coco set the school single-game women's record with 45 points against Charleston Southern. "Separately they'd light a fire under us; together they'd set us ablaze," says sophomore teammate Tawana McDonald. "With five minutes to play they'd still be playing like it's the opening tip: diving, sliding and picking up the intensity."
That intensity carried Georgia to a 27-7 record and a Final Four berth last season, and now the 5'10" Millers are being touted as a pair without peer, the most synchronized backcourt in NCAA history. At times Kelly and Coco seem to be halves of a single personality. They wear similar clothes, smile the same half-smile and, with the exception of a renegade freckle here and there, look exactly alike. They even share the same idiosyncrasies. On team pilgrimages to IHOP the sisters invariably drown their stacks of buttermilk pancakes in strawberry and blueberry syrup. "If one raises her fork, the other will too," says teammate Camille Murphy. "And that's not even the cool part. I've seen them eat Froot Loops, and without thinking about it, each of them leaves two loops floating in her bowl. I'm like, Man!, how'd they do that?"
There is a profound difference between them. "My favorite color is red," volunteers Kelly.
"Mine's blue," says Coco.
"That's the difference," they chorus.
In conversation Kelly and Coco often finish each other's sentences and answer questions simultaneously, the words of one coming a beat late, sounding like stereo speakers slightly out of sync. "When we're talking to each other we...," says Kelly.
"... only need a few words," says Coco.
"We don't have to speak in sentences ..."
"... to get a point across."
Kelly was born first. Twinologists attach significance to the order of birth, believing that the firstborn tends to dominate the relationship and protect the younger sibling. That's not the case with the Millers. "We're pretty equal," says Kelly, the talkative one. "Neither of us is bossy."
"We usually agree," says Coco, the reflective one. "We either love something or hate it."
Among the loves: actress Michelle Pfeiffer, the film Grease and the mystery writer Mary Higgins Clark. "Her best book is Where Are the Children?" says Kelly.
"Yeah," Coco says. "I like that one, too. Also, Michael Jordan's Rare Air."
"Yeah. Same here."
What movies do you hate?
"Dead Man Walking," says Coco. "It was too depressing."
"Yeah," says Kelly. "Depressing."
They each had A's and one B over four years at Mayo High in Rochester, Minn., about 75 miles south of the Twin Cities. They have had identical grades at Georgia, where they take premed classes together. Even their basketball stats are similar. In their freshman season Kelly attempted one fewer field goal, blocked one more shot and averaged 1.5 more points. Last year the similarities got eerier: Kelly tallied 628 points (18.5 per game) to Coco's 626 (18.4). Each was assessed 79 fouls. "They are the same player," says McDonald.
Not quite. Both skitter around the court like a pebble skimmed over water, but Coco, on the wing, is a more mobile shot maker who stops and pops with her elbows squarely under the ball. The calculating Kelly is a playmaker who waits for the action to come to her and extends her arms when she shoots. Less tenacious than her sister, Kelly dishes more deftly and doesn't wilt in tournament heat. At last season's NCAAs she was named MVP of the Mideast Regionals after almost single-handedly beating Iowa State in the final. She buried her first seven shots against the Cyclones' 2-3 zone, hit six three-pointers, had a career-high 33 points and stifled Stacy Frese, the top long-distance gunner in the country.
In the previous game -- a 67-54 victory over Clemson -- Coco had gone loco. Held scoreless for the first 14 minutes, she sat next to Landers for the next six. She fared no better in the second half and was yanked after only three minutes and soon thereafter moved from Landers's side to the end of the bench. Kelly's 22-point scoring jag was nearly eclipsed by Coco's crying jag on the pine. "People still think I banished Coco there," says Landers. "The truth is I realized we were going to win, and I told her, 'The cameras are coming over to me more and more, and the way you look, I don't think you want to be on television. Why not move to the other end of the bench.'"
She did, but the cameras trained on her anyway. "Coco plays so hard and is so hard on herself," says her mother, Kathy, a retired kindergarten teacher. "Ever since she and Kelly were little, they've always given 150 percent."
As infants the twins were literally double dribblers. When they were three, Marv Miller, their gym teacher father, gave them a basketball the size of a small pumpkin. They aimed at the 10-foot basket in the driveway, and Marv swears they sank a few. We'll never know for sure. The sisters have never kept score. "We play one-on-one just to play," says Kelly. "There's no sibling rivalry."
Before long the Millers became Minnesota's most popular twin act since Kirby Puckett. They were 12 when Landers spied them at an AAU tournament. "Some youngsters that age were taller or more talented," he says, "but none were more serious, more determined, busier. Everyone was moving at 50 miles an hour. They were going 60, maybe 70."
Three national AAU and two state high school titles later, they went to Georgia. All of Landers's starters were graduating. "We figured we'd get plenty of game time," says Kelly. They were right. The Bulldogs, who were hobbled by injuries, illness and academic problems, began the 1997-98 season with only six scholarship players -- four of them freshmen. In the first three games the Millers played all but one minute. "They'd get so worn out, their pupils would roll back in their heads," Landers says. "I'd call timeouts just to give players time to catch their breath."
Desperate, Landers advertised in the campus newspaper for walk-ons. "A 43-year-old woman called," he says. "I asked if she was in college, and she said, 'No, I just want to play.'"
Kelly and Coco did too, sometimes to the exclusion of the other Bulldogs. "They tended to pass the ball to each other, and opponents started adjusting accordingly," Landers says. "I didn't discourage them as much as I encouraged them to see the whole floor."
The Millers are so tight that before last summer they'd never spent a night apart. "Being away from Coco was hard," Kelly says of the three-day hoops clinic she attended in Indiana. "I got lonesome."
"Yeah," echoes Coco, "lonesome."
Will the twins spend the rest of their lives in tandem?
Might Coco switch to Kelly's field?
Coco: "Yeah, that could happen."
Might Kelly switch to Coco's?
Kelly: "Yeah, that could happen, too."
Of course, the AMA could take a backseat to the WNBA next season. But the prospect of playing in separate cities unnerves the Millers. "Living apart for a summer ... ," says Coco.
"... would be really weird," says Kelly.
What if a franchise drafted both of them? The twins exchange looking-glass looks. Kelly tugs on her windbreaker, her right pinkie stretched awkwardly below her left elbow. Coco tugs on her windbreaker, her left pinkie stretched awkwardly below her right elbow.
"That would be good," says Kelly.
"That would be perfect!" says Coco.
"It doesn't matter what team."
"We'd just be happy to be together."
"Yeah, to be together."
Issue date: November 15, 1999