BLOOMINGTON – The path from blue chip basketball recruit to Indiana Hoosier and beyond has led Charlie Miller on a calling to help others achieve their own hoop dreams.
Miller, 44, has developed a successful grassroots basketball program in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. But it didn’t come without risk. Miller’s wife was eight months pregnant with the couple’s first child when he quit a successful corporate job close to nine years ago to pursue his passion.
“I went all in on it and just trusted on what we were going to build,” Miller said.
Today, Miller’s Attack Basketball Academy develops hundreds of players ranging in age from third grade to high school. Based in Carrollton, Texas, Miller travels the country, coaching various teams in AAU tournaments. Miller describes himself as a holistic coach.
“I really implement a lot of the things that I missed out on as a player,” Miller said. “Not again living vicariously, more so reflection. What was I missing confidence-wise? How can I help this player gain substance in this area? How can I get them to understand coach talk. Coach said this to you here’s what he really meant, here’s what she really meant. Keep doing it. Keep going. Keep growing.”
Growing up in South Miami, Florida, blocks from the University of Miami campus, Miller’s first obsession was football. Miller would climb chain link fences to watch Miami football practices and search the dumpsters following practices for leftover Hurricanes gear the players wore and discarded.
As an athlete, Miller was at first a star youth baseball pitcher, until he began dunking a basketball at 12 and became obsessed with the sport. South Miami’s renowned boys basketball coach, Charlie Funk, noticed Miller’s talent at an early age and began inviting him to the school’s gym for 5 a.m. workouts when he was just a seventh-grader. By the end of Miller’s high-school career, he scored more than 3,000 points, averaging more than 30 points as a senior to earn 1994 Florida Gatorade Player of the Year honors.
Expectations were high when Miller, a 6-foot-7, lefty, was recruited to IU in 1994 by former coach Bob Knight. He had drawn comparisons to another smooth-shooting scoring lefty who had just left IU, Calbert Cheaney. But in four seasons with the Hoosiers, Miller struggled to find consistency. He finished his career with 810 points and 141 assists from 1994-98 while bouncing in and out of the starting lineup during his four-year career.
“I did the best I could with what I was presented, minutes wise, play wise, being a team leader,” Miller said. “Got my degree in four years, four years and a summer session. I had to take a six weeks course, but that was it.
“I ended up playing six years professionally because of what I did at Indiana, so when I look back on it, I did what I could, whether more, probably so, who knows. But when I reflect on what I did, how I did it understanding what was at stake now, I did exactly what I should have done to be where I’m at right now.”
IU made the NCAA Tournament in all four of Miller’s seasons but failed to get out of the first weekend. It was a tumultuous time. Knight was struggling getting his message across to a new generation of players. The Neil Reed choking incident hadn’t surfaced yet, but Miller and IU’s teammates had witnessed it during a 1997 practice.
“Coach Knight was tired,” Miller said. “About my sophomore year, it was always — there was always negative press around postseason play with us, and it was more about him and his ways … there was always something negative going on, and I think that played to me, looking back, I think that played a big role into everybody playing tired, mentally, physically, emotionally, just being drained, wanting the season to be over.”
Two years later, the video of Knight choking Reed surfaced, and Knight was eventually fired in 2000 after grabbing an IU student firmly by the arm. Miller said he’s come to terms with his relationship with Knight. He recalled a phone conversation with Knight a year after he graduated, when Knight apologized to him for not allowing him to “just play.”
“When it came to playing time, there was no trust,” Miller said. “And I get it now. I get it. It was inconsistent play. But what he said to me when I graduated and now this is my first year playing professional ball, that really did something to me. I’ll be honest with you I cried because I was like — I just thought it was me. I just thought I wasn’t as good. I just thought I couldn’t play.”
Miller said his last meeting with Knight, who at 80 is now in failing health living in Bloomington, was a few years ago at a Dallas-area steakhouse. He was joined by one of Knight’s standout players from Texas Tech, the late Andre Emmett. Miller said Knight also helped him get a summer league spot with the Cleveland Cavaliers, when former IU player Randy Wittman was the head coach and another former IU player — new IU men’s basketball coach Mike Woodson — was one of Wittman’s assistants.
“That was a great opportunity, a great look see,” Miller said.
Miller’s six-year basketball professional career took him around the globe, from Finland to Switzerland to Germany to Portugal to even Venezuela. A career with Xerox followed, which promoted him to a branch in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. A former Indiana basketball manager during Miller’s time there was opening a 17-court basketball facility near Dallas and wanted Miller to be the head trainer. That fell through during the 2008 economic collapse, but a co-worker who was a summer basketball coach then approached Miller about teaching a young player how to shoot.
Miller took it as a challenge, showing up in a suit and presenting the journals he was required to keep during his IU career.
“He ended up making three 3-pointers his first club game after our training, and it was like organic growth from there,” Miller said. “One led to two, two led to three. Hey, I’m coaching.”
In addition to coaching, Miller has found opportunities in media and public speaking. He’s appeared on various Indiana basketball podcasts over the last few years and co-hosts an Evansville-based radio show, the Indiana Sports Beat with Jim Coyle on Monday mornings.
Miller is excited about the new direction of IU basketball under Woodson and thinks it will benefit junior All-American forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, who has NBA aspirations. He said Woodson’s work with Julius Randle as an assistant coach with the New York Knicks shows Woodson can get the best out of versatile, athletic big men.
“They are pretty much the same player to me, power forward, great around the rim,” Miller said. “They were man-childs growing up, and Julius ended up taking off with that jump shot this year, and I think that’s what Trayce needs to develop, at least trust.”