By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Blaine Miller admits the adjustment to college basketball was much tougher than he expected.
“The early weeks were bad,” he said. “I was not ready for it at all. They were tough. I came in not expecting what hit me at all.
“First off, conditioning, just getting back into shape because I broke my foot at the end of my senior year and didn’t get to finish that out. So I couldn’t really do anything all summer. Right when we came to play, we hit it pretty hard. It was tough to get used to.”
“We even talked about redshirting him at one point,” Lions coach Robert Corn said, “but he said he wanted to fight through it and work for playing time. I knew that on our team, the opportunity for playing time was going to be there, and whoever took advantage of it would get the opportunity. He just continued to battle and battle. He would have a good game, and then would come out and not practice very well. He played really well against Eastern New Mexico (nine points, three rebounds in a 20-point loss), and then he didn’t practice very good.”
But in recent weeks, Miller’s practice habits improved and his playing time increased. After an 11-point, four-rebound effort at Fort Hays State, Miller moved into the starting lineup last week. He totaled 15 points and 12 rebounds in victories over Southwest Baptist and Central Missouri. His best overall game came Saturday night with nine points, eight rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots against Central Missouri.
“Since he came back from Christmas, he started to get consistent,” Corn said. “He started to get better and better every day, and he was playing well in practice. I thought he was a bright spot at Fort Hays. He came in and did some good things, and I felt like he deserved the chance, and he’s certainly taken advantage of it.”
“I’m coming in with a lot more confidence, getting into the starting lineup,” Miller said. “We were in a rough stretch, and I’m just trying to play hard and do my best to help us win.”
The Lions halted a five-game losing streak and offensive funk last week by beating Southwest Baptist 100-91 and Central Missouri 93-81.
“The guys kept battling,” Corn said. “Who knows what happened during that five- game losing streak. That wasn’t the same team that played before and is playing right now. At Washburn and Hays we competed a lot better, but the other three games, we didn’t compete hard.
“I’ve never believed in a ‘must’ win, but I knew Thursday’s game against Southwest Baptist was a very big game because we had to get that monkey off our back. Now we’re going down to Tahlequah with a little bounce in our step and feeling good about ourselves.”
The Lions (11-10, 6-7 MIAA) are looking to avenge a 73-54 home loss on Jan. 26 when they play tonight at Northeastern State (16-6, 9-5). The RiverHawks, led by Jermaine Bransford’s 20 points and 17 rebounds, shot 50 percent from the floor and hit seven 3-point goals. The Lions, meanwhile, shot 30 percent and made 1-of-12 3-point shots.
“So much of this conference is when do you play teams,” Corn said. “We caught Central Missouri at the perfect time, the tail end of four straight games on the road and having lost the previous two in close games. So we caught them when they were down. Northeastern played great when they played here, but they also caught us when we weren’t playing as well as we are right now. Hopefully we’ll go down there and play like we’re capable of playing.”
There’s another adjustment to college basketball that Miller is still making, and unless he gets help from his high school, the harassment will continue.
Miller and Marquis Addison, who joined the Lions’ 1,000-point club on Saturday night, went to rival high schools in Olathe — Olathe East for Miller, Olathe South for Addison. And in recent years, it’s been a one-sided rivalry.
“He hears it every day,” Addison said. “My senior year we won the league title on our home court against his school. We’ve won four times in a row now, including his senior year when we beat them on their home court. He knows all about it. The rivalry is not so much in his favor right now. He’ll tell you.”
“To me, obviously, Olathe East is a much better team than Olathe South,” Miller said. “But they have beat us three or four times in a row, so I can’t really talk too much.”