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August 26, 2011No Great Wall. Pretty good ball.
That more or less sums up Darius Miller's trip to China for the World University Games, a journey short on sightseeing but long on basketball, and one that the Kentucky senior said provided valuable experience as he enters his final collegiate season.
Miller could have stayed home and played pickup ball with his UK teammates. Instead, he traveled across the globe for international competition.
"Pickup games are not really real basketball," Miller said. "If you watch us play pickup games, it's more of a show that you're putting on, really. You're just going through the motions. When you play against competition, especially on that level where it actually means something to the people playing for the gold medal, it really helped me."
Miller and Team USA came up short of the gold - his team went 7-1, but came home without a medal - but Miller said he got "an early start" on his senior season. He averaged 5.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 18.4 minutes per game in eight games, including five starts.
Miller didn't get much time to see the sights of China - the Great Wall was five hours away, he was told, from the tournament site in Shenzhen - but besides a series of games, he shared a practice court with players like Alabama's JaMychal Green, Vanderbilt's John Jenkins and Minnesota's Trevor Mbakwe.
"Those guys are some of the top players in the country, so practicing against them every day, seeing how they play, maybe I can take a little bit of stuff from their game," Miller said. "I feel like I got a jump-start to the season."
Now, Miller is focused on getting his senior season off to a better start than his junior year. Kentucky reached the Final Four last season, but the Wildcats didn't hit their stride until postseason play.
With a team that returns veterans Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb and adds talented freshmen Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer, Miller wants to hit the ground running.
To that end, he want to focus on the ways his leadership lagged last season.
"I know what to expect (this year)," Miller said. "I know how intense it's going to be. I know what it's going to take for us to be a really successful team. I have to instill that into them in the early going. I don't think I did a good job or the veterans did a good job last year at that at the beginning of the season. We really need to focus on that this year."
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