Brad Miller, Purdue's 6'11", 240-pound senior center, claims that before last year's NCAA tournament he had read just one book from cover to cover. "It was that one by Larry Bird, Drive" he says. "It took me about a year to finish."
Considering this aversion to reading, you have to wonder how Miller has gotten as far as he has—he expects to get his degree in hotel and restaurant management next August. Ever pick up a textbook, Brad? "Ah, you read the beginning, you read the end," he says. "That pretty much tells you what you need to know."
Fortunately Miller's reading habits have changed. Since picking up James Dickey's Deliverance before Purdue's 83-76 win over Rhode Island in the first round of the NCAAs, Miller has embraced the written word. This summer, while playing with the USA Basketball team in the under-22 world championships in Australia, Miller finished another entire volume, John Sanford's Sudden Prey. "It's this story about a serial killer," he says. "It was really good, but it probably could've been even better."
Just like Purdue. The Boilermakers were supposed to be rebuilding last season but finished 12-6 in the Big Ten, good for a second-place tie in the conference. Now coach Gene Keady's club could be even better, but he'll need Miller to reach his potential for that to happen. Although Miller averaged 14.3 points and 8.3 rebounds a game in 1996-97, he sometimes played a little soft in the middle, a style that doesn't work well in the black-and-blue Big Ten. "I think this summer I picked up the things I needed to learn," he says. "They came from playing those older, stronger players [in Australia], guys who are like rocks in the paint. Now I can hold my own."
If so, Miller and senior guard Chad Austin could give Keady his best one-two punch since Glenn Robinson and Cuonzo Martin took the Boilermakers to within a game of the Final Four in 1994. The 6'2" Austin averaged 17.0 points a game last season, making him the Big Ten's top returning scorer. More important, while playing on that under-22 team with Miller and Purdue forward Brian Cardinal, he did some much-needed honing of his ball handling skills.
Either Austin or junior guard Alan Eldridge must emerge as a steady playmaker if the Boilermakers are to improve. With 2.9 assists per game Miller was one of the few college centers to lead his team in assists, and that can't be allowed to happen again, because teams don't survive in the postseason without solid back-court play. Purdue may even go to a three-guard offense, with Jaraan Cornell, a 6'3" sophomore who averaged 10.2 points off the bench, filling the third spot.
"We've been talking about Arizona a lot lately," says Miller. "They weren't very big, and look what they did. If we have the right attitude and play consistently, the only ones who'll stop us are ourselves. History shows that hard work pays off."
Sounds like Miller's been reading after all.