Ocean basketball star Jack Miller earns D
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Ocean basketball star Jack Miller earns D

Jul 28, 2023

It’s an emotional thing for any player in College of Charleston men’s basketball coach Pat Kelsey’s program. The moment they stand before players and coaches and present their “shield,” a team-building exercise in which they disclose everything about themselves, from their hopes and dreams to their biggest heartbreaks.

“It tells their teammates, their brothers, the story of their life,” Kelsey said.

Jack Miller, a walk-on junior guard who scored 1,532 points at Ocean, got a text from Kelsey recently saying it was his turn, and a few days later Miller was in a meeting room revealing some incredibly personal things, breaking down at one point as he spoke about the impact his grandfather’s passing last October had on him.

Then came the last category on the projection screen: Coolest moment of your life.

And while it’s unclear what Miller actually selected, his teammates rushed the stage as a joyous celebration ensued after “Earning a full scholarship to the College of Charleston” appeared on the screen

“Just the emotion of going from that, to getting a full scholarship was pretty amazing,” said Miller, who had no idea it was coming.

Then came the emotional call to his parents. His father, also Jack, coached Division 1 women’s basketball at Monmouth, Seton Hall and Rider and mother Kathleen played soccer at Monmouth.

“He Facetimed us. He usually just texts. And you could hear it in his voice,” Miller’s father said. “We were just floored. We just screamed and went crazy. I was going ‘thanks coach Kelsey and staff.’ It was just unbelievable. The kid has worked so hard coming from the Shore area.”

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It was the culmination of a three-year journey that began with a prep year at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, and included a trip to the NCAA Tournament last March, as Charleston, nationally ranked for much of the season, went 31-4, winning the CAA Tournament title.

Kelsey understands the importance of all of this as well as anyone, and better than almost everyone.

“A walk-on to me is a badge of honor. It’s in your heart. It’s in your DNA. I was a walk-on,” he said. “I was a scholarship player my freshman year at the University of Wyoming, and transferred back to my hometown (Cincinnati) and Xavier. That’s where my father played, went to camps there as a kid, dreamed of putting on that uniform on.

“It was life-changing for me. I’m sitting here today because Skip Prosser gave me that opportunity and it taught me not only so much about basketball and coaching and teaching, but life in general. He treated me like every other player. I didn’t play the minutes that the starting point guard played, but I was still coached and held to the same standard, to the same level of discipline.”

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It’s Miller who has earned his teammates’ respect over the past two years with his work ethic, helping to make them better every day in practice.

“Some people might think of a walk-on as maybe a little less,” Miller said. “You obviously don’t play much in the game, but during practice you have a huge role. Every week we’re doing scouts and we’re learning the other team’s offenses. so you can ask a lot of the guys, especially from past years, when they get into games they know the offenses, and the guys appreciate it, which is probably the best part.”

With one scholarship left, the Charleston staff was still recruiting the transfer portal and high schools, while beating the bushes internationally. In addition, Kelsey made clear there were two other junior walk-ons - Dylan Ritter and Adam Comer – who were also in the mix for the scholarship.

“Jack represents a group of young men on our team that are our heart and soul. That’s our scout team, our walk-ons,” Kelsey said. “We had one scholarship available this year just because of how the recruiting shook out, and we waited deep into the summer to see if we were going to sign another player.

“It was tough, especially those two in the same class. I sat down with both of them both - those guys were phenomenal. They represent what our program is all about. Because they were happy for Jack. They were thrilled for Jack. They were excited for our team and excited for his opportunity.”

Only Mark Hlatky, who led Ocean to the 1971 NJSIAA Group 3 championship game, scored more points for the Spartans than Miller, who set the program mark with 243 triples. But Miller’s accomplishments were largely overshadowed within a deep Shore talent pool at the time, which included the Ranney duo of Scottie Lewis, drafted by the Charlotte Hornets in 2021, and Bryan Antoine, who set the all-time Shore scoring mark.

On the night Middletown North’s Rob Higgins, who would score 2,278 points for the Lions, hit for 36 against Ocean to go over the 1,000-point mark in late 2017, Miller, then only a sophomore, scored 28 points. Higgins, who topped 1,000 points at St. Francis Brooklyn before the school suddenly dropped athletics earlier this year, now joins Miller in the CAA, having transferred to Elon.

“He had a few Division 3 offers,” Miller’s father said. “Stevenson College was looking at him, but the same day he was going to commit Brewster accepted him.”

“After my senior season at Ocean, COVID was just starting, so I wasn’t really happy with my college interest,” Miller said.

“At Brewster Academy there were a lot of the guys I was playing with were big-time players, high level Division I players. Dwayne Wade’s son was on the team. And one of the kids, Reed Baily, who is at Davidson, his sister played volleyball here and his brother played basketball here so he said I should check out College of Charleston.”

The rest is history.

Miller, whose younger brother, Corey, will be a freshman walk-on at Monmouth, played in 12 games last season. And even though he’s on scholarship now, that underdog mentality will still drive him, as he continues to help push the Cougars’ program to new heights.

Stephen Edelson is a USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey sports columnist who has been covering athletics in the state and at the Jersey Shore for over 35 years. Contact him at: @SteveEdelsonAPP; [email protected].

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