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Gators sophomore January Miller spent the summer working to improve her game in hopes of making a bigger difference.

Thursday November 7, 2013Miller Time: Sophomore January Miller Shoots for Big Season in Year 2

Gators sophomore January Miller spent the summer working to improve her game in hopes of making a bigger difference.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The alarm clock was usually set for 7 a.m., a time most college freshmen home for the summer try to avoid like a sunburn.

Marlene Miller might listen for any rustling to make sure her daughter was stirring as the day began to rise, but there was no need.

Miller’s only daughter, Gators guard/forward January Miller, was ready to roll.

“I never had to wake her once,’’ said Marlene, known as Marlene Martin when she ran track at UF in the early 1990s. “She wanted to get better.”

That’s January for you.

Soon after Florida head coach Amanda Butler named her the Gators’ most improved player last season, January Miller returned home to spend part of the summer with her family in Orlando. Sleeping in was not on her to-do list.

January Miller

Florida’s most improved player wanted to continue to improve, so Miller spent several weeks working out twice a day with three different trainers on her stamina and her game.

With the Gators set to open the 2013-14 season at home Friday afternoon against Bethune-Cookman – the women play after the UF men host North Florida in their season opener at the O'Connell Center – Miller is optimistic her summer workout sessions will come in handy on the court.

“I improved on my conditioning; I improved on some of my skill sets,’’ said Miller, who is 5-foot-8 and can play both guard spots and small forward. “I got my shot a little bit better, my ball handling a little bit better. I’m definitely ready for the season.”

That is good news for Butler.

As a freshman, Miller started slow, averaging just 3.2 points in her first 12 games. But by the time the Gators went on a run to reach the Final Four of the WNIT, Miller reminded everyone of why she finished her career at Orlando University High as the all-time leading scorer in Orange County girls’ basketball history.

Miller made 7 of 15 3-pointers in the WNIT and in a quarterfinal win over James Madison, Miller’s drive to the basket gave the Gators a one-point lead with less than a minute remaining. In the round of 16, Miller drained a 3-pointer with 52 seconds left to spark a 6-0 Gators run to polish off a victory over Charlotte.

Miller Time took on a different meaning for the Gators.

“I was just a lot more confident toward the end of the season,’’ she said. “I started to get back to how I used to play in high school. I think now that that confidence has gotten even bigger. I think that is going to help me come game time in certain situations.”

A four-year starter at University, Miller became the school’s first female to sign a Division I athletic scholarship. But she did a lot more than score 2,184 points for the Cougars on the way to becoming four-time Metro Conference Player of the Year.

She made a difference.

This is what University principal Mike Armbruster told Miller in front of a crowded room of students and teachers at Miller’s signing-day ceremony: “I admire the person you are above the athlete you are, because that’s what makes you special. When I think of a Cougar, this is what we’re talking about.”

The crowd erupted in applause.

Butler understands why.

“She is very, very grounded,’’ Butler said. "A great kid."

That’s January for you.

Marlene and husband Michael, who also went to UF, have two other kids, sons Michael (18) and Miles (13). Both look up to their older sister.

Michael is autistic and requires special care. In between summer workouts, it was January often giving him rides to the pool -- he is a competitive swimmer -- and other places. Meanwhile, Miles plays basketball like January and serves as her shadow when she’s around.

“We are a very close family,’’ Marlene said. “She’s an excellent kid. [Miles] totally looks up to her. She is a true star in his eyes.”

In high school Miller graduated Magna Cum Laude with a 4.7 GPA. In her free time she often volunteered at the Florida Hospital Cancer Institute where Marlene is a nurse, helping entertain and hand out Christmas gifts to young cancer patients.

Miller's soft side turns hard on the court. That is where her father's influence shows. Michael played at Leesburg High and passed on his love for the game to January.

“She is so competitive and has such passion for the game,’’ Marlene said. "She is very driven."

Several major programs recruited Miller, including Florida State, Miami, Clemson, Louisville and Purdue.

Miller wanted to stay close to home and Florida was an ideal fit. When they had time, the Millers would occasionally bring January to UF women's games growing up.

They don't miss a home game now that January is a Gator.

“We have always been Gators at heart,’’ Miller said. “I wanted to come here. I think sometimes people get confused about [my reasons]. It wasn’t because of my parents. I knew what UF could offer me and I knew what I could get out of it, not just basketball but life in general.”

Miller’s versatility and natural ability drew Butler's attention. The family ties to UF were a bonus.

While the transition to college tripped Miller up at the start of last season, Butler is counting on bigger and better things from her as a sophomore.

Miller has dropped about 20 pounds since first arriving on campus in July 2012.

“Definitely toward the end her confidence started to grow and her competitive spirit started to shine,’’ Butler said. “As the games became bigger and meant more … January was always one of those kids who hit a big shot or made a big play. That’s who she is. She is a big-play player, especially on the offensive end.

“She is definitely one of those kids you would put in the scorer’s category. That’s a big part of where she forms her identity as a basketball player. She is more confident on that end. That’s not to say she’s not a good defender, but that’s just her comfort zone. When she’s got the ball in her hands, that’s when she is the best basketball player she can be. That’s her gift.”

A gift Miller and Butler expect to produce more results in the box score in Year 2.

“Senior year of high school you have all this confidence. You know what to expect,’’ Miller said. “Last year was a transition period. I feel like it’s kind of a glimpse [of what I can do], but now I feel like I’m getting back to that. I’m just kind of ready for anything, really being able to contribute."

That’s January for you.

 

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