Darius Miller’s 2007 summer plans included trips to Italy, Virginia, Philadelphia, West Virginia, Las Vegas and Florida to play basketball.
Now playing in the NBA for the New Orleans Pelicans, the Mason County graduate has created a program based out of Lexington called Team D. Miller Elite to help give young players an opportunity to play on the big stages.
“Honestly, I just felt like around here there wasn’t a lot of opportunities for me when I was growing up, so I just wanted to make sure there was a place people could go and play against quality competition throughout the country,” said Miller during an interview with The Ledger Independent at the Camp One Darius Miller and Chris Lofton Skills Camp.
According to an Aug. 8, 2007, story in The Ledger Independent, Miller was ranked as the 32nd best player in the nation by “The Sporting News.” It was the summer before his senior year, and he had yet to commit to the University of Kentucky or win a Sweet Sixteen title with the Royals.
He was playing against junior national teams from the Soviet Union and Italy, went to an NBA Camp in Virginia, a couple of Reebok-sponsored camps, the Harley-Davidson Classic in West Virginia and the National AAU Tournament. He played on a team with several top players, including William Buford, who went on to Ohio State, and Kenny Frease, who went on to Xavier.
Miller ended up with the Wildcats, winning a national title in 2012 before being drafted by the Pelicans. After spending parts of three seasons in New Orleans, he went to Germany and won three consecutive titles with Brose Bamberg.
He inked a deal to return to the NBA last summer, and by the time October rolled around, he knew he wanted to provide opportunities for other young, talented players from his area.
“I was just talking with a few people that were familiar with the AAU circuit nowadays and what was going on and just asked them if they thought we could get a decent team together that can compete on a high level, and they were with us,” said Miller. “Once we got that figured out, we just tried to see what kids we could talk to that wasn’t already on the team or see who had interest in playing on a big stage.”
One of the people he reached out to? Andre Mahorn.
“You know, it’s crazy because he was in the NBA playing during the season and he called and was like, ‘Man, I really want to do this,’” said Mahorn. “It probably started in October. We planned it. We were just constantly on conference call, conference call. It was something he wanted to do. When he installed the vision it was kind of easy, because the ground work was done with what our group had already done in AAU in the state.”
Mahorn has experience working in the top youth basketball circuits with the Travelers, a long-time member of the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League.
“Darius Miller wanted to – I used to coach the Travelers. I used to be a part of the Nike EYBL. The Travelers, they’ve been in existence for a long time under the Nike umbrella,” said Mahorn. “Darius really wanted to start his brand – a Kentucky kid that played at UK, made it to the highest level of basketball playing in the NBA. He wanted to have that in place for himself and he wanted to give back to the community and that was one of the ways he knew he could give back.”
The program has teams from different levels, including third grade, fifth grade, sixth grade, seventh grade, eighth grade and ninth grade, according to Mahorn, who oversees the program and coaches the third grade team.
Mahorn says the organization is easily accessible on social media, works to build relationships with players and tries to build teams to compete on the local, regional and national levels. Since starting less than a year ago, they’ve had teams compete in the Midwest Circuit and in the National Youth Basketball League.
“Of course you want the best players in the state and surrounding areas, you want the elite kids, but you want to have a venue, you want to operate for kids that ain’t on the level and want to work to get to that level,” said Mahorn. “Right now, we’re just trying to have it where we’re open to all, but ideally we want to play at the highest level we can and make an opportunity for them.”
With many kids playing high school ball, their teams haven’t seen a ton of action in recent weeks, but Mahorn says the plan is to start playing more when July rolls around.
“We’re kind of in the down period right now with things slow due some of our guys playing basketball in high school, some of our seventh graders are playing high school, so we’re kind of just down in the moment, but in July we’re going to hit the road and he’s [Miller] excited about that because he’ll get to sit there and coach the kids and they’ll get to learn from a professional – somebody who’s done it at every level,” said Mahorn.
Miller says he knows some of the kids personally, like Paul McMillan IV, one of the top-rated players in the class of 2022. He’s currently ranked 12th in the nation by Coast 2 Coast Preps and 21st by Future150, while also being on other watch lists. Miller wasn’t around much during the start due to his NBA schedule, but wants to see the teams in action this summer.
While still in the early stages of the program, both Miller and Mahorn and excited to see the program grow and showcase talented young players from the area.
“Just let everybody know, man, we coming. We’re going to be here for a long time,” said Mahorn. “We’re ready and excited for the future.”