It is game day for the Occidental men’s basketball team, and sophomore guard Jay Miller is on the court warming up—an hour before any of his teammates will join him. Early shooting and a brief afternoon nap are part of a pregame routine that provides Miller with focus and energy. Two hours later, Miller is handling the ball for the Tigers, flying up and down the court, slashing through the lane and leaping over the opposition for tip-ins.
Miller’s fast-paced, versatile playing style is the result of talent, athleticism and years of hard work. Miller started playing organized basketball when he was five years old. Years of training helped him become a star-player at La Verne Lutheran High School. There, Miller led his team to two state championships, serving as captain during his junior and senior seasons.
While Miller received some attention from Division I Schools, Occidental offered him the best athletic and academic opportunities. According to men’s head coach Brian Newhall, convincing Miller to become a Tiger was easy.
“Jay is one of the few student-athletes who recruited us as hard as we recruited him. He fell in love with what Oxy had to offer,” Newhall said.
Despite Miller’s high hopes for the program, the sophomore guard’s two-year career at Occidental has been hindered by repeated injury.
Early in the 2013-2014 season, Miller was diagnosed with a virus that had the potential to compromise his heart and brain. Doctors instructed him that he could continue playing, but only for a limited number of minutes. Later that year, Miller suffered a concussion that kept him out for more than a month.
This season has not been much easier. Miller has played every game with plantar fascitis—a painful tissue inflammation issue that tends to linger. He has also been dealing with a rib injury, which he says he will have examined after the season.
“It’s really been rough, it’s been a struggle,” Miller said. “I’ve had to stay mentally tough through this and grow as an individual.”
Despite his injury woes, Miller has continued to help his team win games in any way he can.
“Jay is a very good player, offensively and defensively,” Newhall said. “Anyone who has seen us play knows we are a much better team with Jay on the court.”
Off the court, Miller may be making even more of an impact. Last year, he started coordinating for Project S.A.F.E., an organization that aims to prevent sexual assault and domestic abuse. Miller said he has seen too many people involved in abusive relationships to simply keep quiet.
“Being a part of Project S.A.F.E. allows me to educate my peers about how to have healthy relationships,” Miller said. “Domestic violence and sexual assault can happen in any situation, and no one should have to go through it.”
Miller thinks his passion for making a difference will translate to his career after college. An Urban Environmental Policy (UEP) major, Miller hopes to do meaningful work locally that improves people’s lives.
“UEP gives me the opportunity to apply what I’ve learned from Project S.A.F.E. to my community,” Miller said. “I want to get involved, whether that’s through city planning, event coordination or public relations.”
Senior teammate Juwan Rice says the way Miller has dealt with his injury issues shows the kind of person he is.
“Jay has been through more adversity as a player than most guys experience in a career,” Rice said. “His patience and perseverance speak volumes about his character, and he’s an ideal guy to have on any team.”
In his final two seasons playing for Occidental, Miller hopes to stay healthy, develop as a leader and continue to help his team win games. If he can avoid injuries, Newhall says Miller has the potential to be an all-SCIAC Selection.