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Team-first Texan Leads Lady Flames
The following article first appeared in Flames Illustrated, which was sold at the Vines Center between Nov. 8-19. Miller and the Lady Flames will host Anderson for an exhibition game Thursday at noon for Liberty's second annual Best Field Trip Ever Day.
If anyone on the Lady Flames basketball team has earned a few bragging rights, it's point guard Reagan Miller.
Miller has been a key contributor since day one, setting the program record for minutes played in a season (1,086), while ranking fourth in assists (131) and seventh for three-point field goal percentage (.359) and eighth for three-pointers made (56) in the Big South Conference during her freshman year (2011-12), earning the VaSID State Rookie of the Year award and Big South All-Freshman Team honors.
Similar success followed in Miller's sophomore year. Headed into her junior season with the team, an upperclassman at last, it would be natural – expected, even – for the point guard to assume and enjoy a little star status on the court. After all, any other athlete of her caliber would be looking to maximize her individual potential and opportunities as much as possible.
Talk with the Texas native even briefly, though, and it's plain to see that she's not just any other athlete. Less concerned with leading statistically and more with leading relationally, Miller embraces a genuine team-first attitude that is rare in college sports.
"I was kind of expecting it, just because we lost such a big group [of seniors], but coming into this year I knew my role was going to be a little different," Miller stated. "It's still the same in that I'm playing the same position and all that – but we have so many new people, and because I know the offense, I know what's going on, and my role is taking them under my wing and teaching them."
"With her experience, we're expecting her to step up and assume a leadership position," head coach Carey Green asserted. "Because of that experience and her desire to win, she's done an excellent job of understanding the need to invest in our underclassmen."
Green chuckled as he relayed that, with six new players on the squad, the team is undergoing what he refers to as "identity development." Leadership from upperclassmen like Miller is vital to the smooth melding of a team in transition.
"Reagan has been an excellent ‘big sister' to those new faces, helping them make the adjustments to the team," Green observed.
While obviously proud of Miller's intangibles, Green was just as quick to point out her athletic abilities. He praised his point guard's mental awareness throughout games in particular, crediting her for the handling of directing traffic, ensuring correct spacing and play execution on both sides of the ball and initiating both offensive and defensive efforts throughout games.
"I'm not super fast, and I can't jump very high," Miller laughed, "so my style is more to try and outthink people and use my knowledge of the game to be effective."
Don't be fooled, though – the point guard is more than capable of generating offense of her own, especially beyond the perimeter.
"She's an excellent outside shooter, and we'll definitely depend on her knocking those three-pointers down," Green confirmed.
"I like to shoot the three," Miller agreed, with the caveat, "when I get the opportunity."
In true Miller style, she returns to her priority: the team.
"I would describe my play as pass-first, because I'm always trying to look for other people before I set up myself," she insisted brightly. "But whenever I'm able or whenever it works for the team – because we have a different game plan each time – I'll go with it."
The team-first mindset entails many things – bright, automatic and persistent, for starters – but it is not forced or put-upon. Lady Flames fans can be certain that their point guard's walk is consistent with her talk, on and off the hardwood alike.
When pressed about personal goals, she considered for a moment, then responded sincerely, "I honestly don't have any personal goals. If I had to say one, it would be to just do the best I can to help our team reach our goals."
And just what are those team goals?
"Every year we set the standards a little higher," Miller stated. She explained that the team sets incremental goals as the season progresses, starting with a successful preseason, then going undefeated in conference play, winning the Big South title, and so forth.
"We've won the Big South for 15 out of 17 years, I believe, so our big-time goal now is to win in the NCAA [Tournament]," the point guard relayed.
If the Lady Flames are to reach that goal, it will take more than physical abilities and talented individuals. It will take a motivated team working as a unified whole. Miller's dedication to ensuring its cultivation, even at the expense of personal glory, is greater than any contribution she'll ever make on a stat sheet.
Unusual? Perhaps. Unexpected? Certainly. But Reagan Miller is not your average athlete – and for that, both teammates and fans can be thankful.
Ryley Rush is a Liberty University junior and is a freelance writer for Liberty Athletics.