August 21, 2014

Medina
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District boys basketball: Weight-training has made Bucks’ Miller a matchup nightmare

The basketball pedigree for Buckeye power forward Jeff Miller was always in his back pocket. It was up to him to maximize God-given talent.

Miller’s father, also named Jeff, earned second-team All-Gazette honors for the Bucks in 1980 after averaging 10.2 points and 10.7 rebounds playing alongside legendary center Garth Wurstle. Uncle Bob was even better with first-team All-Gazette selections in 1963 and ’64 and 739 career points.

They pale in comparison, though, to the late Robert Miller, who, unlike his sons, played guard. He was a Class B second-team all-state tournament pick after leading Olmsted Falls to the big dance in 1937 — the final year of jump balls after each basket.

Power forward Jeff Miller and Buckeye will play Vermilion tonight in the Westlake Division II District semifinals. (RON SCHWANE / GAZETTE)

Power forward Jeff Miller and Buckeye will play Vermilion tonight in the Westlake Division II District semifinals. (RON SCHWANE / GAZETTE)

It could have been a lot to live up to, but the youngest Miller was never pressured to play the game.

“The thing is, my dad never talks about it,” he said. “I didn’t know he was all-county until last year. He doesn’t even bring it up.

“I knew my grandpa was a great player, so I guess there was a little bit of pressure, but (my family is) more supportive than anything.”

Miller figured he had ability after starting in the post for good as a sophomore Dec. 29, 2011 against Highland.

He was even better as a junior and averaged 10.4 points and 8.0 rebounds while shooting .447 from the floor. The Bucks finished second to Firelands in the Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division and knew they had a chance to be special this season.

It’s been hard to argue no one worked harder to achieve that dream than Miller as senior-laden Buckeye (21-3) heads into a Westlake Division II District semifinal tonight against Vermilion (17-7).

“You can say all the good adjectives you can come up with and they describe him perfectly,” coach Matt Saunders said.

Miller began his varsity career at 185 pounds and increased to 205 last season. He was naturally strong, but not in peak physical condition.

An introduction to weight training by friend Dan Haberkost, whose brother Solomon pitched at Cleveland State and Ottawa University (Kan.), changed everything.

A highly motivated person who goes all out in everything he does — he’s on track to become valedictorian — Miller now abides by a strict regimen of 6,000 calories per day.

That begins with oatmeal and eggs for breakfast, a protein shake when he arrives at school and beef and rice for lunch. Miller then “scarfs down” peanut butter before each practice and high-carbohydrate foods like noodles afterward.

The constant eating gives Miller fuel to hit the weights and focus on homework. This is a serious chore during the fall harvest season at the family’s 5,000-acre grain farm, but the winter downtime affords Miller more opportunities to focus on his passions.

“I became addicted,” Miller said of weightlifting. “I consider it my second sport. It’s a lot of commitment.

“My dad and my mom have always taught me hard work. I pretty much pushed myself. They don’t have to anymore. When you enjoy it, I don’t consider it work. I enjoy basketball and I enjoy lifting weights.”

The transformation has been impressive.

The 6-foot-3 Miller now tips the scales at a muscular 225 pounds and, better still, he can drain jumpers, drive to the hole with force and box out like a man possessed.

“It’s nothing I did,” Saunders said. “It’s all him and his workout plans and his own diet. He was smart about it. He doesn’t lose his speed and he didn’t lose his shooter’s touch. It’s hard to put on that weight and do the other things well as well.”

The versatility of Miller, who now averages 14.5 and approximately 10 boards, shows on a game-by-game basis, as Buckeye’s offense is heavily predicated on a high-low game with Miller and 6-5 center Chris Vogt. Miller is particularly deadly in the high post thanks to his shooting touch that was molded while playing guard in his youth days, allowing Vogt to go to work against single coverage.

Toss in 1,000-point scorer Garrett Beck on the wing and Buckeye’s frontline is truly dynamic.

“He’s the strongest, toughest kid I’ve ever played with,” Beck said without hesitation. “He’s a grinder and he puts in the work. He goes for every rebound, and he’s just the biggest man on the court every game that he plays.”

Buckeye is well on its way to crushing the school record for defense scoring average with a 45.9 mark made possible by Miller and Vogt swatting everything out of a matchup 2-3 zone. The soon-to-be-previous standard of 49.3 was set in 1963, when, ironically, Bob Miller was the man in the middle.

The PAC Stars Division champion Bucks also take a school-record 11-game win streak into tonight and will reach their first district championship game with a victory.

A corn-fed power forward is a big, muscular reason why they’ve been this good.

“We always imagined this, but being realistic? No, we really didn’t think we could do it,” Miller said. “We knew we were going to be good. We were returning five guys, and they got a lot of varsity time last year.

“We wanted PAC. We got that and we’ve smelled blood since.”

Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or agrindle@medina-gazette.com.