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When Jodie Meeks left UK to play in the NBA, there was a lot of hand wringing and tongue wagging among the BBN about who who step up and provide the veteran leadership on a young team with 6 new faces.
Patrick Patterson immediately came to mind for a leadership role and Darius Miller became another name that would need to step up to ensure success for the basketball Cats.
So how did these basketball Cat’s spend their summer break? From all appearances, it looks like both took totally different routes to assuming their leadership roles and from the looks of things, the UK Wildcats will benefit from these summer detours.
Patrick Patterson (and freshman Daniel Orton) have spent the summer in San Francisco under the tutelage of “Hell’s Trainer” Frank Matrisciano. If the name is not familiar, the results are. Former Oklahoma center (and the number 1 pick in the NBA draft) Blake Griffin spent last summer working with Matrisciano and he absolutely dominated the Big 12 last year. Gilbert Arenas and Kareen Rush are other basketball players who have benefitted from this training.
One thing for sure is that this was not a summer of treadmills and simply lifting weights. Matrisciano’s agenda is so tough that 7 of the 10 athletes that enlist his services end up leaving in the first half hour. The four to 6 week agenda also features NBA training with former coach Bob Hill. For more information on “Hell’s trainer, check out the SEWR blog for more info.
From all reports coming out of San Fran, it is currently working for Patrick Patterson. Daniel Orton’s dad, Larry recently while it looks like Patterson has lost weight, he has added a lot of muscle and predicts that Patterson will be a “terror”. Orton said that Patterson’s game has improved and that “Patrick is knocking down that 15 footer all the time. He’s going to be so hard to guard. He’s going to be a Top 5 pick (in the 2010 NBA Draft)”.
As for his own son, Orton says that Daniel is pain free from his knee injury and is focused on winning the national championship at Kentucky. “When he sets his mind on something, that’s what he goes after, too. I can’t wait to see him playing with all these other great players at Kentucky”.
One of those potentially great players is Darius Miller. Miller showed flashes of brilliance last year and as a sophomore, finds a lot expected out of him. From all early indications, Miller thrived in early practices under Calipari and was quickly pencilled into the UK starting lineup by fans when Meeks left for the NBA. Meeks spent his summer playing on the US Under 19 team which just won the first gold medal for the US in the FIBA championships since 1991.
Just making the team was a big deal, and Miller acknowledged that being part of such a talented team stressed teamwork more, rather than padding individual stats. Miller feels that the experience has made him a better player, hopefully something he can bring back to UK.
Miller feels that his defense has improved the most during this experience and his stats show it. Despite not starting, Miller led the US team with 11 blocked shots and 11 steals after the first 7 games of the tourney. Miller has turned his coaches heads with his team work and versatility.
“He is loading up the stat sheets. He is able to guard bigger guys and smaller guys. That versatility has really stood out. He has kind of given us a needed shot in the arm a couple of different times with his ability to block shots, make steals or create a hustle play. He’s been pretty clutch for us.” said Purdue coach Matt Painer, an assistant on the team. While not known for his shot blocking ability at UK, he has impressed the US staff enough to think he can take his shot blocking prowess to UK.
Miller has used this experience as a metaphor for whatever role he may play on the Wildcats this season. “We have a lot of scorers on this team (US u19 team). We do not all need to score. Sometimes a guy has an off night and then he might have a good game. It was just the way the game went when I had to score more. That could be a preview of what our season at UK will be like, because we are going to have a lot of scorers and depth too.”