Elk Grove's Miller knows how to rebound, and not just in basketball
That old game of "rebound," a board game that actually has nothing to do with basketball, taught Jordan Miller more about survival in basketball than any other lesson he can think of.
Miller will learn later that it also taught him about survival in life.
"Rebound" was a game he often played with his great-grandmother, Betty Walker. Betty Walker took care of Miller when he was in grade school.
"One of my best memories with my great-grandma is that game rebound. It's where you have rubber bands that are stretched around the edge of this game board," Miller said. "You try to shoot these marbles around the board with the rubberbands and try to get them to land on certain numbers without the marbles falling down these holes.
"My great-grandma would always kick my butt at that game. I would say to her, 'Can you just let me beat you one time? Just one time? And she'd say no. She would never take it easy on me."
And so Miller learned an important lesson that he is applying now.
"I learned to never expect anything to come easy," Miller said.
Some things haven't. Some very important things.
Miller is a senior forward on the Elk Grove boys basketball team.
And that position didn't come easily. At all.
Miller transferred from Rockford Auburn to Elk Grove as a sophomore, after playing basketball his entire life in grade school, middle school and on youth travel teams. He expected his career to pick up at Elk Grove just where it left off.
But during tryouts two years ago under the previous coaching regime, Miller got cut.
"At first, I was shocked," Miller said. "I couldn't believe this was happening to me. I had played basketball since fourth grade. I had never gotten cut from any team. I couldn't believe it. I was angry."
Miller decided to do something productive with his shock and anger.
He threw himself into working out. He became a weight room junkie. He also worked on his fitness and his basketball skills. Every day. By himself.
"I felt the need to really get after it. I wanted to show everyone that they made a mistake," Miller said. "I didn't want to be one of those guys who got cut and just sat around all upset. I wanted to get into the gym and get better and get to the level I needed to be at.
"I'm really proud of myself because I think a lot of kids in my situation would not have gotten back in the gym. They would have gotten a job or done something else. I couldn't do that. I had to prove everyone wrong."
And he has.
Miller came back as a junior last year and made the team, and got minutes off the bench. Now, he's a starter and one of Elk Grove's leading scorers.
Miller had a season-high 14 points against Stagg, and last weekend, he put together a 13-point effort against a tough Naperville Central team. He is averaging 11 points and 7 rebounds a game since cracking the starting lineup about five games ago.
"I took over the program when Jordan was a junior and one of the things I noticed about him immediately was his work ethic and how hard he works and we really wanted him on our team," Elk Grove coach Nick Oraham said. "He works hard at his craft. He's fearless. He's probably going to graduate as our all-time leader in charges taken. He's already got 15 (drawn charges) in our first 15 games.
"He's been dealt a tough hand, but he faces every challenge head on."
The tough hand that Oraham refers to isn't just the fact that Miller got cut from the basketball program his sophomore year.
Miller has had challenges in his home life, moving around often in his early years with his mother Alicia. He went to four elementary schools, and another high school before settling in at Elk Grove.
Also, he's had his great-grandmother to worry about.
Once Miller's caregiver, Betty Walker now needs her great-grandson's love and care focused on her. She is very ill and in a downstate Champaign hospital now, blind in one eye.
Miller has made the drive down to Champaign many times this school year, including immediately following basketball games and practices, to visit with his great-grandma.
"She always took care of me, she was always there for me," Miller said of Betty Walker. "My great-grandma always plays a big part in my mindset. I think she has been (a motivation to work hard at basketball).
"Basketball is a big part of who I am as a person. And I just decided that I wanted to finish strong. I wanted to finish with a bang my senior year."
Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw