By Ben Scheiner
The Miller School of Albemarle has a long tradition as a central Virginia basketball powerhouse. On the heels of some major changes to both the boys and girls programs, one might have expected an off year for both teams. But that is not what’s happened.
The departure of Taylor Sandidge, former team captain and current UVA-Wise point guard, hasn’t left the Miller girls team devoid of talent. Four of their current players are planning to continue their basketball careers at the collegiate level. Guard Rachel Odumu has signed with Monmouth University in New Jersey, and center Adrienne Darden is verbally committed to the University of Delaware. Kristen Histand, a three-point specialist, will be playing at Hood College in Maryland, and Lilly Riggleman, known for both her strong offensive and defensive game, has several division-I teams interested.
The depth of talent, though, would mean nothing without strong leadership. While the players are incredibly capable, they’re anything but divas. Odumu, Histand, and senior forward Emonnie Key are team captains.
“We are 9-5 overall and 2-0 in the Blue Ridge Conference,” head coach James Braxton noted. “We won the Daily Progress Holiday Classic with a big win over Spotswood High School. I would say we are still a work in progress. Hopefully our best basketball is ahead of us.”
Both Riggleman and Darden are averaging 11 points per game.
“This is a team with a lot of players who can help in many ways. It’s a good defensive team, but needs to learn how to play together and play to their other teammates’ strengths,” Braxton said.
The Miller boys team has undergone an even greater transition this year, starting the season with a new coaching staff and the loss of multiple starters. Despite a 8-12 record (1-2 in conference play), the team boasts plenty of talent. They sport an impressive 82 point-per-game average, largely due to their two stars, Cameron Smith and Guilherme Guimaraes.
Smith, a 6’1”, 170 lb guard from Bristow, has an overall game to be marveled at. His ability to affect the game on both sides of the court has been crucial to the Mavericks’ success, and doesn’t go overlooked. “Our most consistent player has been Cam,” said first-year head coach Ralf Melis. “He leads us in scoring, assists, steals. He has been our second best rebounder. He sets the tone on defense and keeps us organized on offense. He has been great getting into the lane to score and he has taken more free throws than the rest of the team combined.”
While Smith gives Miller a threat on the perimeter, Guimaraes provides a strong inside presence for the Mavericks. At 6’8” and 200 lbs, the native Brazilian consistently brings energy and effort not only on game day, but to the practice floor as well.
“Guimaraes has a huge impact on how well we play on a daily basis, whether it is his intensity in every practice, or his defensive energy during games,” Melis said. “Gui has done well statistically, but his overall contributions far outweigh what the statistics show. Quite honestly, when Gui struggles, we really struggle.”
Melis says the season has gone largely as expected. Every player on the team is playing a position that is new to him, and many players haven’t competed at this high a level before, so there has been a learning curve. Nonetheless, improvements are evident. “We have played really well at times, but we have also struggled at times,” said Melis. “Hopefully as the season progresses we will be more consistent, but we have already seen a lot of growth in all of our players.”
For now, Melis and his staff are putting their emphasis on player development rather than the record of wins and losses. To them, it’s all about teaching their players how to play the game. This emphasis, along with the work of the Director of Player Development Damin Altizer, has resulted in the team’s shooting an impressive 53 percent on the season from inside the 3-point arc, and 34 percent from beyond the arc.
“Overall our team has done a good job sharing the ball. We try to emphasize ball movement and pace with our players,” Melis said. “Creating an environment where the players feel confident on the court, and are free to make mistakes was one of our main goals for this season.”