Catching up with Miami Hurricanes center Rodney Miller

Rodney Miller dunks against Florida A&M on November 16, 2017. (Eric Espada/Getty Images)

[Miami hopes to move up the NCAA bracket]

NEW YORK — Miami’s basketball coaches are no strangers to the Northeast. Coach Jim Larranaga is a Bronx guy. Associate coach Chris Caputo grew up in Queens, and assistants Jamal Brunt (Baltimore) and Adam Fisher (Philadelphia) hail from major metro areas.

The only player on the roster with roots in New York City is reserve center Rodney Miller, a 7-foot, 255-pound sophomore who played at Oak Hill Prep in Virginia. He is averaging fewer than four minutes per game, but UM remains encouraged by his development.

A few minutes with Miller:

He was born in Brooklyn but now lives in the Laurelton section of Queens. Miami arrived in town Monday, and he got to go home Tuesday night and eat a home-cooked meal of jerk chicken, rice and beans. He’s a Knicks fan who prefers Madison Square Garden, but he’s plenty happy to be at the Barclays Center.

“There’s no place like home,” he said. “I love New York. Playing in Brooklyn is a great environment. I’m so excited.”

He chose Miami over LSU and Wake Forest. Why? “Mainly the coaching staff,” said Miller, a four-star recruit in the 2016 class. “Great group of coaches.  I felt like they were really trustworthy and just a good group of guys. I took a visit and loved the campus. Obviously Miami’s a beautiful place, but the facilities are beautiful and everyone there was ready and willing to help.”

He’s starting to feel more comfortable as an ACC big man. Miller has played 47 minutes in 14 games this year, but appeared in five of UM’s last nine contests. He has made 7-of-12 field goals this year and grabbed six rebounds. “I know what I can and can’t do,” he said. “I still have a lot more to work on. I’m getting to where I want to be.

“I just have to be more aggressive on the court, more of a presence. Be a big man. I’m a true 5. You don’t find many of those anymore. I need to be a presence, rebound, block shots, box out.”

Miami likes his upside. In practice, Miller shows decent touch around the basket, has low-post moves in traffic and can find the open man. Bringing that to games depends on him getting into better shape.

“I feel like I’ll play a big part on this team,” he said.  “I think the future holds a lot for me in this program. I’m excited to keep pushing forward.

Conditioning is a key for Miller, who was dogged by recruiting websites (ESPN panned him for his “disappointing motor,” but noted he “drastically improved” in that area as a prep upperclassman). He admits he lost his battle to the dining hall last year, though he reports feeling stronger as a sophomore.

“When I first came to UM I was skinny, 235-240,” Miller said. “I gained some weight. The freshman 15 hit me. I worked really hard to get it off. I put on a lot of muscle.  I hope to max bench 300 pounds this summer.”

The culprit, as it is for many college freshmen, was “the access,” he said. “At Oak Hill we had three meals a day, very strict. Here there’s a lot more freedom.”

His favorite food: “Fried chicken and mac and cheese, real greasy stuff,” he said. “Definitely got to stay away from that stuff. I’m eating more baked chicken, trying to stay away from red meats, a lot of veggies. Less juices, more water. Less sugar.

“It’s all about sticking with it. I’ve been working on my mental toughness, being consistent and mentally strong. It’s about how bad you want it. I want it bad.  This summer I’m going to really focus on my conditioning and come back in the best shape of my life.”

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