Florida basketball: Catching up with Mike Miller, who reflects on UF's 2000 Final Four run
Twenty-three years ago, then-Florida forward Mike Miller made a driving shot in the lane in overtime, lifting the Gators to a 69-68 win over Butler in the first round of the 2000 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
From there, Florida would reel off four more wins, reaching the NCAA Tournament finals before falling to Mateen Cleaves-led Michigan State. 89-76, in the title game in Indianapolis.
“My brain and my mind doesn’t feel like it’s 23 years ago,” Miller said. “But my body does. It’s amazing how fast things go.”
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Miller is back at the Final Four in Houston this weekend, this time as a spectator, as part of a Mike’s Hard Lemonade promotion in which he gives fans a pep talk on a comeback hotline.
It was Miller’s game that did the talking when he wore a Gator uniform more than 20 years ago. A skilled, 6-foot-8 swingman from Mitchell, S.D., with shooting range out to the 3-point line, Miller was ahead of his time as a versatile player capable of playing multiple spots on the floor.
Miller left the Gators following his sophomore season in 2000 and went on to a 17-year NBA career that began with the Orlando Magic, who took him fifth overall in the 2000 NBA Draft. After five years with the Memphis Grizzlies and one year stops in Minnesota and Washington, Miller ended up with the Miami Heat, where he won two NBA championship rings in 2012 and 2013.
What stood out most about Florida’s 2000 team, Miller said, was the competitiveness of its players, which was fostered by then head coach Billy Donovan and assistants Anthony Grant, John Pelphrey and Donnie Jones.
“When some of your best competition, your hardest competition, is on the practice floor, you’re going to have a better basketball team,” Miller said. “But it has to be the right culture and the right identities, too.”
Key leaders on the 2000 team included Udonis Haslem (who's still with the Heat), Brent Wright, Teddy Dupay and Miller. Another leader was team captain Major Parker, who died unexpectedly last November of a heart related issue at 44.
“It’s a sick feeling,” Miller said. “You lose a brother way too young with a lot more stuff to do. It’s one of the things that reminds you that basketball is really not that important, and what you’ve accomplished in basketball is not … even today, your heart goes out to the family.”
Reliving March Madness
Miller relived the excitement of the NCAA Tournament this March by following Creighton, where his brother, Ryan, coaches and son, Mason, is a 6-9 redshirt freshman forward with the Blue Jays. Mason Miller appeared in all four games off the bench in the NCAA Tournament during Creighton’s Elite Eight run but played limited minutes due to a lingering ankle injury.
“When you have kids, it’s a lot of emotions that go through it obviously,” Miller said. “But it was fun to see him kind of make that first run in the tournament - unfortunately a little ankle injury - but it’s been a blessing for sure. It’s painful being a parent when you are not on the floor but it’s really fun to see them do what they’re doing.”
Miller created a stir on Twitter when he, like many other Creighton fans, questioned the call that was made in the closing seconds that led San Diego State to a 57-56 win over the Blue Jays and Saturday's national semifinal against Florida Atlantic. Darrion Trammell was fouled in the act of shooting and made 1 of 2 free throws with 1.2 seconds left, ending Creighton’s season.
“Just a physical basketball game and it plays that way and it ends that way. I think it’s anticlimactical for everybody, not just for Creighton but for San Diego State, too,” Miller said. “You’d like to see the players finish that up but it’s the tough call. I’d hate to be the one that has to make it.”
From coaching to sports agency work
After retiring from the NBA, Miller spent three seasons as an assistant coach at Memphis under Penny Hardaway from 2018-20. During COVID, Miller stepped away from his college coaching career to coach his two sons, Mason and Maverick, at Houston High School in Germantown, Tenn.
Now, the 43-year-old Miller is working at Lift Sports Management, where he represents NBA players and helps college basketball players prepare for the NBA Draft.
“This is my path,” Miller said. “I’m all in on the sports management side and helping on the agent side. It’s been a lot of fun, it keeps me on both sides, it lets me compete still, let’s me be on the floor with the guys getting them better. I think I’ve found a real home here and I’m excited about the future of it.”
Still follows the Gators
Miller said he still follows Gator basketball and is high on the potential of head coach Todd Golden. Florida finished 16-17 in Golden’s first season, which ended with a 67-49 loss to UCF in the first round of the NIT.
“I’m excited about what coach is going to do down there,” Miller said. “It’s never easy, right? So he knows the work that’s at hand but he’ll do a great job, he’s got a great energy to him …
“It’s hard, college coaching is hard, but they’ve got the right guy and that’s all you can ask and now it’s to build this thing back up.”
Florida is looking to reload in the transfer portal after losing three players to eligibility and five more to the portal at the end of the season. Guards Riley Kugel and Will Richard are Florida’s two returning starters.
“You’ve got to find a way to build a program, at the same time mixing in some of the older guys from the transfer portal,” Miller said. “I will say the landscape of that is getting a little trickier. You can do what Kansas State did and bring in 11 new players and win, but it’s also hard to sustain that too, so you go back and forth on it.”