It took the fourth- and fifth-graders at Fairborn Intermediate School just a day to figure out what it took Horizon League voters a year to realize.
Michal Miller — in the words of Wright State women’s basketball coach Katrina Merriweather – “is just a phenomenal kid.”
Merriweather wasn’t just talking about her senior guard’s abilities on the basketball court, but about what she’s seen when Miller has “dragged” her and some of the Raiders players along to interact with the school kids
As part of an organizational leadership class she’s taking, Miller said she was told by her instructor to choose some type of community service involvement.
She decided to try mentoring young students and Merriweather said she’s been moved by Miller’s commitment: “She spends at least three days a week over there, much more time than her class requires. Whenever the teacher calls, she goes. The kids have really embraced her.”
Proof came this week when Miller met a boy serving an in-school detention.
“They call it reflection — it’s a better word for fourth- and fifth-graders,” she smiled. “I asked him what he had done and he said he disrespected a substitute teacher. He was up getting his math work out of his backpack and she yelled for him to sit down and he said something back.
“He opened up to me about a whole bunch of things including his social life with his friends, some of whom turned out to be fake friends. I shared with him honestly and when we finished he said ‘thank you’ and gave me a hug.
“Today his teacher texted me and said the boy wanted to know if I was going to come back. He wanted to talk some more.”
Just like in that Fairborn classroom, Miller made an impact on Horizon League courts last season after transferring to Wright State following a college journey that first had taken her for a year to the University of Arizona and then for another season to Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas.
Miller found her niche with a Raiders team last season that would win a school-record 27 games (against seven defeats) and the Horizon League Tournament, which put them in the NCAA Tournament for the second time.
She joined a team that had four veteran players, three of them — Mackenzie Taylor, Emily Vogelpohl and Symone Simmons — who were 1,000-point scorers. Simmons also would grab over 1,000 rebounds.
Regardless, Miler led the team in scoring most of the season before tying Taylor for top honors at 11.9 points per game.
And she did all that with chronic foot problems that make it difficult for her to walk some mornings and left her in a walking boot to go around campus. That also forced Merriweather to limit her minutes in practice and games.
And then there was the facemask she wore to protect a twice-broken nose. Her injuries left her with a deviated septum that was surgically repaired after the season.
She overcame all that but couldn’t sway enough of the voters when it came to selecting the all-league teams at season’s end. The results were announced on the morning of WSU’s Horizon League Tournament opener against Oakland at the Nutter Center.
Taylor, Simmons, Vogelpohl and freshman Angel Baker all were honored.
Miller was not.
She was hurt, but as she prepared this week for tonight’s season opener against Abilene Christian at the Nutter Center, she admitted: “I wasn’t mad at anybody but myself. I figured I wasn’t doing enough to be noticed. I told myself I had to do better.”
And she did, starting that night when she led the Raiders over Oakland, making 8 of 11 shots for a game-high 22 points.
Wright State would go on to beat nemesis Green Bay in the title game and she was voted MVP of the tournament.
Last month she was named to the preseason All-Horizon League first team.
“This year she’s definitely being shown some respect in our league,” Merriweather said
“I’m glad to be noticed, glad I’m not being taken for granted,” Miller said. “But I know it wouldn’t have happened without my teammates. And now we all have got to live up to the expectations.”
Long road to Dayton
Matching last year’s successes won’t be easy, but then nothing has come easily for Miller.
She grew up in Michigan City, Indiana, the youngest of 13 children, and that includes her twin brother Michael, now playing pro basketball in the Netherlands.
Highly recruited out of high school, she chose Arizona but played sparingly her first year and then endured a coaching change. She transferred to Trinity Valley, where she starred and then came to Wright State, which had been interested in her since high school.
Once Miller signed, Merriweather said she was a better overall player than WSU greats Kim Demmings and Chelsea Welch, both of whom had been Horizon League players of the year.
Such talk was considered blasphemous by some diehard Raiders fans. Demmings is the all- time leading scorer at the school and Welch, a Fairmont High School product who had previously played at Pitt, is now a pro.
“I get that can be controversial so I have to choose my words very carefully ,” Merriweather said.
She stressed Demmings, now one of her assistants, built much of the foundation of the program and players like her and Welch and Tay’ler Mingo enabled the Raiders to get talents like Miller and Baker now.
Merriweather said Miller’s greatest feat last year was meshing with “a very dynamic group of seniors.”
This year Miller will move from the 3 spot to the 2 and be called on to score more.
Baker will play the 3, senior Jalise Beck will take over at point, Ohio University transfer Alexis Stover will play the 4 position and 6-foot-4 returnee Tyler Frierson will be in the post.
With some other transfers, some role players from last year and four new freshmen, Merriweather said the team is deep and is the best shooting bunch she’s ever had.
Much promise ahead
Miller said she initially feared meeting with the Fairborn students because she thought they wouldn’t listen to her. But she said when they found out she was an athlete and she opened up with them on her own life, they began to share their own stories and connections were made.
She has them all tell each other their dreams for the future – and she shares her own – and later the students talk about each other’s hopes.
The young boy said he felt better about himself after talking to her and that’s why he now wants to be sure she comes back to talk to him some more.
Just like those Horizon League voters, he sees the promise of what lies ahead with her.
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