The first few times Cavaliers rookie point guard Andre Miller
tried to drive on 6'10", 280-pound teammate Shawn Kemp, he was
pounded to the ground so fiercely that he considered wearing knee
pads to practice. In his first game against the Lakers, Miller
tried to blow past Shaquille O'Neal and was hit in the face so
hard that it blurred his vision. Oliver Miller, the mammoth Suns
center, welcomed Andre to the NBA with an elbow to the throat,
and 7'2" Dikembe Mutombo of the Hawks swatted several of his
shots into orbit.
Each time, Miller bounced up and charged into the lane for more.
On Feb. 5 against Atlanta he achieved the first triple double by
a Cavalier in five years, racking up 28 points, 10 rebounds and
12 assists. A few weeks later he lit up the Lakers for 23 points.
Miller's combination of fearlessness and fundamentals have helped
him supplant third-year man Brevin Knight as Cleveland's
playmaker of the moment as well as the future. As a starter in
the team's last 30 games through Sunday, Miller averaged 13.9
points and 8.1 assists. "Being aggressive, that's how you earn
respect," says the 6'2" 200-pounder, the eighth pick in the '99
draft. "By now people know I'm just gonna keep on coming no
matter what, and that's all the respect I need."
It's a pattern that Miller has followed his whole life. He grew
up in South Central Los Angeles and threw himself into basketball
as an escape from the streets and the pain of watching his
younger brother, Duane, struggle for six years with viral
encephalitis. Duane died in 1988 at age 11. (Andre named his
first child, who was born in December, after his brother.) Miller
starred at Verbum Dei High, but he sat out his first year at Utah
because he did not qualify academically. He sized up the
challenge, attacked and conquered, graduating with a degree in
sociology in four years. Miller also led the Utes to a 114-20
record and a spot in the 1998 NCAA title game, which they lost to
Miller's first job as a teenager was at a junkyard. The same
might be said of his first job in the NBA; his play has been one
of the few bright spots for the Cavaliers (29-46 at week's end).
Since Feb. 5, when Knight was sidelined with tendinitis in his
right quadriceps, the 24-year-old Miller has drawn raves for his
poise, passing and deadly pull-up jumper. He is four inches
taller and 30 pounds heavier than Knight and plays better
defense, which has enabled him to hold on to the starting job
despite Knight's return on March 10. Opposing coaches already
describe Miller as the next Jason Kidd. "He's about as complete a
player as you'll see today," says Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.
Now if only someone would clue in the fans. At the Rookie
All-Star Game, Miller pumped in a game-high 21 points, but when
he laid a ball in off the glass instead of dunking it, the crowd
booed. "That is what's wrong with the game today," Pacers guard
Reggie Miller said last Friday after watching Andre drive on 7'4"
center Rik Smits and collect 16 points and seven assists in a
95-94 loss at Indiana. "Everybody wants a behind-the-back,
alley-oop, home run play when a basic shot will do. Andre Miller
does things the old-fashioned way. That's why I respect
COLOR PHOTO: CHRIS COVATTA/NBA ENTERTAINMENT