Midway through the first half Saturday night, Southern junior Malcolm Miller soared above the Arkansas-Pine Bluff defense for a baseline jam.
The Jaguars went up 15-5 in a game that would morph into a highlight-reel rout. The crowd erupted.
On the ensuing Southern possession, Miller again had the ball in his hands, this time on the right wing beyond the 3-point arc.
This time, he showed off his great range, the ball swishing the net for three more points.
Again, the crowd erupted.
Moments like these have been the hallmark of Miller’s young Southwestern Athletic Conference career.
Inside the paint, out on the perimeter and everywhere in between, Miller has been a 6-foot-6 bundle of excitement in leading Southern (11-6, 5-0) to the top of the conference standings.
He averages a league-best 22.4 points in conference play. He is, in five SWAC games, shooting 57.7 percent from the field and 56.8 percent from 3-point range.
And maybe, coach Roman Banks said, he’s just getting warmed up.
“There are things we’re still trying to teach him,” Banks said. “I actually think he has a next level of the game in him.”
Miller, a Midland, Texas, native, never envisioned himself lighting up the SWAC race.
He said he was being recruited by major schools like Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Iowa while starring for South Plains Junior College as a sophomore last year. But his options, ultimately, were limited.
Miller said he was kicked off the team at South Plains in February for failing a random drug test. He had been suspended for five games his freshman year for the same offense.
Other schools backed off, but Southern assistant Ryan Price stayed on him.
“They decided to give me a chance,” Miller said of Southern. “And it’s been like a dream come true. Everything’s going well.”
The hottest player in SWAC basketball is also its best sixth man.
Miller probably would have begun the year as a Southern starter, but a thumb injury during the preseason led him to a reserve role. He played so well off the bench, Banks decided to leave him there.
“I like to look at his eyes and see him on the edge of that chair,” Banks said, “because I know he’s ready to go in that ballgame.”
Southern’s opponents certainly have a different sentiment when Miller checks in.
They know the high-flying, smooth-shooting swingman could soon soar for a dunk that rocks the gym. Or knock down a 3-pointer that turns momentum.
With every highlight he provides, Miller moves further from the missteps in his past.
He begins to look — and feel — that much more at home.
“My momma always tells me, ‘God works in mysterious ways,’” Miller said. “I feel if I had gone (to school) anywhere else, I wouldn’t be getting the kind of opportunity I am right now. I wouldn’t be having as much fun.”
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