Making a winner: Why Mike Miles is built to take TCU on a historic March Madness run
March 17, 2023 Updated Fri., March 17, 2023 at 11:35 p.m.
There are many reasons fans around Fort Worth believe TCU can go on a magical run in the NCAA tournament.
A veteran coach plus an experienced roster are part of those. However, the biggest reason is because the Horned Frogs have Mike Miles Jr.
There’s nothing more valuable in March Madness than having a lead guard that can score or create scoring opportunities for others. Miles is one of the best in the country.
Miles’ value to the program goes beyond his impressive skill set. Miles is a winner and a walking confidence boost for his teammates. To understand why Miles is built for this moment we have to go back to the beginning to the neighborhood of Highland Hills.
That’s where Miles developed the skills of leader and a winner on and off the basketball court.
Miles’ mother, Mickey, knew her son was special at the age of 5. Every mom thinks that, right? Sure, but Mickey’s eye for talent went beyond just a mother’s belief in her son.
Mickey’s passion for basketball started before her son was born. Her brothers all played basketball and her step father, whom she just refers to as dad, was a coach. He eventually let her become an assistant coach for his team and she ended up coaching one of her younger siblings.
She even runs her own scouting service and is a local fixture at many of the top games around DFW. She knows the game and she was able to recognize early that Miles was gifted.
“Mike’s been pretty much bouncing the ball since he could walk,” Mickey said. “He was special at 5, he was always the smallest on the court and they always tested our team. We always had to show our birth certificate because he was so advanced at dribbling.”
The complaints became so frequent that Mickey kept Miles’ original birth certificate on her at all times. Once the protests were put to rest, winning often ensued for Miles’ team which would be a common theme as he grew older.
Mickey credits Miles’ older brother Willie as the reason for his advanced skills. He would watch his brother hoop around the neighborhood, dribbling the basketball and unknowingly enhancing his skills beyond his peers.
As he grew older, Miles began to understood how difficult life could be for some around Highland Hills.
“It wasn’t good, it was a poor neighborhood with a lot of violence going on,” Miles said. Along with the violence, Mickey said drug dealers and addicts were frequent sights for the family growing up.
It was the type of environment that makes people desperate to fix their situations through legal or illegal means. The fast money of the street attracted many young men in the neighborhood to embrace that lifestyle, but Miles was insulated from that thanks to his family and his love for basketball.
“(Basketball) helped me a lot,” Miles said. “It kept me focused, kept me with something to do after school instead of going out and doing what some of the other kids were doing. It’s good for any kid in that situation to have an outlet that can take your mind off things.”
Despite how tough the circumstances were at times, Miles still takes pride in the neighborhood that he grew up in.
“I appreciated growing up there,” Miles said. “It made me who I am. I think if I didn’t grow up there I wouldn’t be the player or the person I am. There was some bad to it, but I’m grateful.”
When it was time for Miles to enroll in a high school, Mickey decided it was time to get her son away from Highland Hills so he could fully realize his full potential. That’s why he ended up at Lancaster and started the next chapter of his story.
Lancaster coach Ferrin Douglas, known as Coach Doug by the Miles family, already knew who Miles was before he arrived at his program.
As Miles continued to have success on the AAU circuit, coaches like Douglas became keenly aware of his rising stardom. Douglas knew Miles was special from afar, but Miles still found a way to exceed his expectations once the two met.
“I was watching some film of him when he was a little kid to see what we had coming,” Douglas said. “I was like this kid can start at varsity at point guard for us.”
At the time Lancaster already had a point guard in TJ Starks, who would eventually sign with Texas A&M after high school, but Douglas needed Miles on the court and moved Starks to the shooting guard position.
Douglas’ belief in him at such an early age continued to Miles’ trajectory as a big-time Division I basketball player. Miles believes he became a more complete player at Lancaster.
“Coach Doug was very important for me, he was the exact coach I needed at the time,” Miles said. “He believes in me, other than my mom, Coach Doug believed in me more than anybody else from the first day I got there, it was nothing but love.
“Before I got to him, I didn’t play defense, he taught me how to defend and how to be a leader.”
Douglas helped his offensive game, too. Miles was mostly a pass-first type of guard coming up the ranks, but he began to find his place as a scorer going into his senior season. With Miles leading the way, Lancaster won the 2020 state championship.
At the time it was his most significant achievement and another example of him helping his team find success. When it was time to make a college decision, Miles wanted to bring that pedigree to a school close to home which led him to TCU.
Leaving a legacy
As a freshman Miles was the second-leading scorer for TCU behind R.J. Nembhard. In his sophomore year, Miles led the Horned Frogs to their first win in the NCAA tournament since 1986-87. He had a choice to make regarding staying or going to the NBA.
He ultimately decided to stay in Fort Worth and earned recognition as the Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year. Miles has taken his game to another level averaging a career-high in points while making more than 50% of his shots.
After shaking off an early injury, the 6-foot-2 guard put his full arsenal on display for TCU.
Miles is built like a running back and attacks the rim like any good tailback hitting the hole. His jumper is smooth, his array of dribble move seemingly limitless. In the middle of January Miles led TCU to a blowout win at Kansas and another over Oklahoma a few days later.
Miles was playing the best basketball of career and had TCU on the cusp of cracking the top-10 nationally. But then the outlook of the season changed on Jan. 28 when Miles suffered a knee injury early in a loss at Mississippi State.
He essentially missed six games and watched his team go 1-5 in that span without him. It was taking a toll on him mentally.
“We talked everyday, it was very tough for him,” Mickey said. “It was so tough for him; he did not want to go the games. He said it hurt him to sit on the bench and not be able to help. He felt very powerless.”
For a player with the natural charisma and confidence of Miles, it took a toll on him not being able to help his brothers. That’s when Mickey kept his spirits high. Like any mother she wears many hats for her son whether it be trainer, coach or protector.
In that stretch she knew exactly what her son needed and it was just another example of how strong their bond has become.
“It helped a lot. She was huge for me, she taught me everything I know,” Miles said. “She was a mother figure that was playing both roles for me. She raised me as a great young man and a player. Having her in my corner, she’s very special to me.”
Miles returned from the injury and looked like the player he was before. In his first game back, TCU scored 100 points in a blowout over Oklahoma State. Miles then out-dueled Kansas State guard Markquis Nowell in the Horned Frogs’ win over K-State in the Big 12 tournament.
When he’s on the court things are drastically different for TCU.
“He’s playing well, he’s practicing well,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “He’s shooting the ball well. Mike is defending well, he’s playing his best basketball this time of the year and he’s healthy. The decision making has been good, the shot selection has been good.
“We’ve got to make sure he gets his 15 shots. He’s one of the leading scorers in the best conference in the country so he’s had a great year.”
At the level he’s playing plus the supporting cast he has around him, it’s no wonder many around Fort Worth think this TCU could be the first to make it to the second weekend of the Big Dance in over 50 years. Some might consider that pressure, but Miles is built for it.
“I don’t really see it as pressure, we’ve had expectations on us all season,” Miles said. “We’re trying to go even further, we made history last year, now it’s time to make history this year. That’s the goal going into March Madness.”
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