By Jordan Ercit
Kitchener Post staff
Finding a lockdown defender, someone who relishes the chance to go head to head with the opposition’s best offensive player, can be a pretty difficult task at the high school basketball level.
Right now, however, that is not much of a concern for under-19 Waterloo Wildhawks head coach Aaron Tomlin.
One of Tomlin’s star pupils, Kitchener’s Juwan Miller, is just as comfortable imposing his will on the sublimely skilled as he is distributing dimes from the point guard position.
“Most kids this age are interested in scoring baskets, because they want the glory,” said Tomlin, who also coaches the senior boys team at Huron Heights Secondary School. “But Juwan wants to be the shutdown defensive player, he wants to have that guy on the other team, the one who takes all the big shots.
“Playing good defence is truly a selfless act and Juwan is a selfless player by accepting those challenges.”
But that isn’t stopping Miller, who Tomlin said is the best defensive player he has ever coached, from wanting more from himself.
He wants to be a leader, wants to drain shots when he has the chance and never wants to be satisfied with the talent his dad Milton, a former NCAA track athlete at Florida State University, handed down to him.
And he wants to be able to do that for the Ontario under-17 team.
The former Forest Heights Collegiate student, who is attending Huron Heights for his Grade 12 year, is one of 18 athletes vying for a spot on the final provincial team roster as Ontario looks to defend its national title in Sherbrooke, Que., at the end of the month.
Kitchener’s Sasha Simic, of Cameron Heights Collegiate, and Waterloo’s Savo Krajisnik, of Bluevale Collegiate, will be trying to do the same with the under-15 provincial team.
“It feels good to know I have another chance at representing the province,” Miller said. “And I feel like I have an edge this year, because I’ve been working hard to get there.”
Last year, Miller was one of the final cuts for the U17 provincial squad, when he was told his shooting touch needed refinement.
So the 17-year-old took the advice to heart. He worked on his form by taking hundreds of practice shots per session over the last year, while also trying to become a leader amongst the older boys on his under-19 Ontario Basketball Association club team.
Because of that, Miller is confident he can contribute to Team Ontario this time around. But he also knows hard work will be needed to crack a lineup that includes several returnees — some of whom are members of the cadet national team — and will be bolstered by under-15 team graduates.
“You have to be constantly thinking and working hard, because there’s no break during tryouts,” said the high school all-star, who won a WCSSAA league championship with the Trojans last season. “The minute you let your guard down and relax, that’s when someone makes you look bad.
“That’s the difference between making the team and not making the team.”
But Miller is up for the challenge, something Tomlin sees on a constant basis at the OBA level.
A solid student in the classroom who plans to study computer engineering after high school, Miller is constantly asking questions about basketball strategy and looking for an edge, Tomlin said.
And when a tough assignment presents itself, Miller attacks it with zeal.
No better example of that came during an OBA tournament in Etobicoke earlier this year when Miller and teammate Javon Masters were handed the task of containing Burlington Skyhawks standout guard Grant Mullins, an NCAA Columbia University recruit.
There were whispers that Mullins would have his way with the Wildhawks. Instead, the Wildhawks won the tournament title and Miller ended up with defensive player-of-the-game honours by holding Mullins to 15 points — an effort that Tomlin said put Miller “on the map.
“Everyone said Grant was going to go off . . . I said, ‘Let’s just wait and see what Juwan does,’” Tomlin said.
The provincial team, which meets next week in Toronto, will be named later this month and until then Miller plans to keep working toward his goals, which include attracting an NCAA scholarship.
Because of that, he’ll be studying for his SATs and working on his game over the summer months instead of ditching his school books and toiling at a part-time summer job.
“By next OBA season, I want to be at the point where college coaches are coming to see me play,” Miller said. “I just have to keep working hard and hopefully that way I’ll get my name out there on the map.”