Lance Miller remembers driving his youngest daughter, Diamond, from basketball games to soccer matches and then back to basketball.
Diamond, the youngest of three sisters growing up in Somerset, N.J., loved both sports, and while Lance had to drive her to the competitions, he never had to drive her in the competitions.
“The thing that always set her apart was her motor,” the former Villanova and European professional basketball player said. “She had a gear as a competitor she could go to and others couldn’t keep up.”
A sophomore at Maryland now, Miller still has that gear, and the Terrapins need it more than ever. Off to an 11-1 start (7-0 in the Big Ten), No. 7 Maryland is down to nine players with the recent announcement that guard Channise Lewis has been lost to an ACL injury for the second straight year. She joins Baltimore’s Angel Reese (broken foot) on the socially-distanced bench, and suddenly there’s more of the load to be shouldered by fewer Terps, including the versatile 6-foot-3 Miller.
Miller and reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Ashley Owusu form one of the best one-two punches in the Big Ten Conference, maybe one of the best in the country. They were on schedule to be cornerstones of a basketball “Big Three” with Reese, the No. 2 ranked recruit in the country last year.
“It’s unfortunate another teammate has to go down but it’s a part of this season,” Miller said. “We’re going to keep fighting for Channise. And Angel’s such a great player, too, and we can’t do what she does. We all know that. We all try to work as a group. There’s five people on the court and we play as hard as we can.”
Miller and Owusu, in particular, can do a lot of what Reese could do and they’re just going to have to do more of it in her absence. Miller leads the team with 17.9 points per game (just ahead of Owusu at 17.8), and they’re among four Terps in the top 21 scorers in the conference. Not surprising since Maryland leads the nation in scoring at 92.5 points per game.
Owusu and Miller are like thunder and lightning raining points down on foes and storming to victory after victory — 10 in a row this season — headed into a Jan. 25 tilt at Ohio State on ESPN2 at 5 p.m.
“[Miller’s development] has been huge,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “I’m so proud of Diamond. I think you can see the results of all her hard work during the pandemic, the accountability that she spent in her game when she was back home. You just see the ceiling Diamond has. Diamond’s a pro.”
Miller is still climbing toward that ceiling. She was often brilliant in a 90-73 win at Minnesota Jan. 14, stuffing the stat sheet with 23 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks. The defensive stats were what caught Frese’s eye. She had met with Miller earlier in the week to break down defensive game film and polish her Diamond at that end.
“When we get her to start playing both ends of the floor — I like to give her a hard time — it’s going to be incredibly special,” Frese nudged on a media Zoom call. “She’s just tapping the surface of what she’s capable of.”
It’s not hard to imagine there’s less subtly on this topic on the practice floor. But that’s why great players come to Maryland — to get that sort of training for the next level. Miller has never shied away from such challenges.
“My freshman year I was playing with Kaila Charles who is now playing in the [WNBA],” Miller said. “The opportunity to play with her and learn from her was a lot of fun. And I really appreciated that the seniors never took it easy on the freshmen. It was hard but if anything, it made us better.”
Diamond is a gem, hardened in the gym, her father her AAU coach until she was a junior in high school. And Diamond always played against two older sisters, who didn’t take it easy on her because that isn’t what older sisters do.
“Her sisters made her a better player,” said Lance Miller of Adreana, who played at LaSalle and then at Ohio State as a grad transfer in 2018-19, and LaNiya, currently a redshirt sophomore at Wagner.
“My mom used to say I always followed [Adreana] even before basketball,” Diamond said. “When she picked up a basketball it was only right for me to pick up a basketball. I guess I ran with it ever since. I’m so thankful my dad put a basketball in her hands because it put a basketball in my hand, too.”
Diamond and LaNiya, only a year apart, were always playing together, but again, Diamond was younger and remembered playing with Nya and her friends, all older than her.
“I was always playing up and I would get bullied,” she said. “I was little, skinny — I’m still skinny — and I guess that made me stronger as an individual.”
Come to find out, as she played organized ball against players her age, the game was starting to come pretty easily. She “realized [she] might be pretty good” in eighth grade when her father’s school, Villanova, offered her a scholarship. That same summer she had turned heads with her play at a tournament in Hershey, Pa., and had so many people coming up to her and congratulating her that she wasn’t long for car rides to the soccer pitch anymore.
“In soccer she was just faster than everyone else,” Lance said of his Diamond. “When she started having success in basketball like her sisters, that’s when she took off.”
Lance thinks committing to the hardwoods later (before she gave up soccer) helped harden Diamond.
“The benefit was nothing was given to her,” he said. “She still had a chip on her shoulder because she wasn’t praised at such a young age, told what a great player she was or that she was the second coming. She had to work.”
And she did just that, going on to McDonald’s All-American and Gatorade Player of the Year honors at Franklin High. She was a consensus top-20 prospect nationally and earned a spot on USA Basketball’s entry in the 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup. The Americans won the gold medal.
Landing on the national team did wonders for her confidence but maybe slowed her development as a freshman collegian due to a later start with her Terrapin teammates. She still averaged 19 minutes playing in all 32 games, scoring 7.7 points and yanking down 3.2 rebounds for a talent-laden, 28-win squad.
“I definitely feel like I’m more comfortable, and that’s the work I put in,” she said. “I had a lot of lows last year where my confidence wasn’t good. I never want those feelings again.”
This year, along with the scoring, she’s chipping in 6.3 rebounds and 0.8 blocks per game while shooting 51.4 percent from the field and 77 percent at the line.
Miller and Chloe Bibby each had 17 points Jan. 17 at Wisconsin as Maryland survived one of their worst showings lately in a 79-70 victory against the winless-in-conference Badgers. Miller had 13 points in the second half, keying a pivotal 20-4 run that finally put the Terps on top for good. She scored from all over but was particularly effective on the drive, breaking down Badgers in the halfcourt or scoring ahead of them in transition.
“She has developed her game to a three-level scorer — the three, the pull-up and getting to the rim,” Frese said. “She just continues adding more and more to her game which just makes us a better team.”
Diamond’s multifaceted game perhaps still hasn’t been fully appraised. Frese is working on that. So is Diamond. It’s already apparent, though, that the more Diamond shines, the further Maryland goes.
This story has been updated to reflect that Maryland’s Jan. 21 home game against Iowa was postponed.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics