July 13, 2011
This is the fourth installment of a multi-part series highlighting the 2011-12 Tennessee basketball newcomers. In this edition of "Hello My Name Is," UTsports.com chats it up with junior transfer Dwight Miller, a forward from Nassau, Bahamas.
Q: Bahamian athletes are known for their prowess in track & field, but you gravitated toward basketball. What was it about the game that drew you in?
A: "When I was younger I never really played sports. Track & field is a big thing in the Bahamas. We have something called `sports day' in school in the Bahamas. And that one day out of the year, everyone competes in track & field events. The whole day is dedicated to sports, and the whole school is there. But I never ran. Whenever they tried to make me run I would go and hide, because I didn't want the whole school to see me lose. So I hid. I never competed in one sports day event my whole life until I came to America. "But going back to basketball, I started watching it late. I was never really interested in it--I guess because of the lack of resources. We just have outdoor parks. We don't' have a lot of organized basketball teams, except for high schools. So I was never really into it. I mean, I would go and mess around on the courts sometimes. But other than that, I'd never really mess with it unless I watched it on TV. "When I really started to consider playing basketball, I was 13 and I had just hit my growth spurt. I was about 6-3, and my stepfather looked up at me one day and said, `You're getting tall.' I just looked at him like, `What do you mean?' I guess I never realized I was growing like that until he said it and I was looking down at him. I was just thinking, `When did this happen?' And he told me I should start playing basketball. That's when I started going to the park a little bit more often, trying to learn something. "Then I was introduced to my mentor, Frank Rutherford, who brought me over to Houston when I was 15. By then I was 6-8. That's really when I started playing basketball."
Q: Talk about your initial impressions of your new teammates and coaches here on Rocky Top.
A: "That was a big reason why I decided to come here for school. The people, the coaches, everybody just seemed so genuine. It's good to be in a place where you know you're going to be embraced into a family almost automatically just by wearing `Tennessee' on your chest. The coaches and my teammates made my transition so much easier because even from day one, there was never that awkward stage. It just felt like I was home with family right from day one."
Q: Frank Rutherford's Elite Bahamian Education Program has really benefited a number of young men and women who yearned to pursue their athletic dreams while also receiving a college education. How did that program affect your life, specifically?
A: "Aside from basketball, it really helped me with life lessons. I learned a lot of life lessons that, typically, maybe I couldn't have learned at home. My mentor went to college, so he had a different outlook on things. That's not to say that my mother couldn't raise me right. It just added a different dimension to my growth as a person. Not having my father around like I wanted, Mr. Rutherford stepped in. And he was a male figure that I could respect. He wanted me to do a lot of things I never imagined I'd be able to do--athletically, in the classroom. My overall speech and interaction with people changed because I was in a different country. I was also forced to grow up very quickly. I had a childhood, but by the time I was 16, it was time to become a man. When I came (to the United States) I kind of came into my own a little bit. I took basketball more seriously, because I saw it as my meal ticket to a great education.
Q: What's your favorite meal?
A: "Anything my mother cooks is my favorite meal. My mother is the best cook in the world. I'd love to get her a restaurant someday so the whole world could taste for themselves and really experience that real Bahamian flavor--there's nothing like it! I can't even describe it. It's the epitome of soul food, I guess.
Q: Your collegiate basketball career has taken you to Pittsburgh, Pa., and Midland, Texas. How does Knoxville compare to your previous stops?
A: "Knoxville is kind of like a mix between the two. It looks a lot like Pittsburgh with the rivers and the scenery and the hills, but it's not as cluttered as the big city. It's conservative like Midland. The people are very moral-based. It's just the perfect medium between the two, which makes it seem almost surreal. It's almost like telling me, `This is where you need to be.' "I had success in Pittsburgh. Obviously I didn't play as much as I wanted to, but I still had success there. I had success in Midland. I got to contribute. So for this place to be so similar to those two places, this really feels like the right spot to be."
Q: In your opinion, what is your biggest strength on the basketball court? And what area of your game do you most want to improve upon?
A: "My biggest strength on the basketball court is my will to win. That means doing whatever has to be done in order for my team to come up with the victory. I always want to win. I hate losing. I hate losing more than I love... breathing. So I would say that's my biggest strength. "The thing I really want to work on is my game in the mental sense. I have the skills, but bringing it together mentally I think is going to make me a more complete player."
Q: How did you become involved in training with former NBA great Hakeem Olajuwon?
A: "My mentor, before he went on to be an Olympic triple jumper, attended the University of Houston around the same time that Hakeem Olajuwon was there. They became friends, and he helped Hakeem a lot as far as working out and training on the track. Ever since then they've had an amazing relationship, like brothers. They stay in contact year-round, even though Hakeem stays half a world away for most of the year. When Hakeem Olajuwon had a knee injury, everyone expected him to be out for a long period of time, but my mentor helped to bring him back with the track workouts they did. Mr. Rutherford was one of the main reasons Hakeem came back from his injury so quickly. I guess it just helps in that business to have genuine friends who care about you and look out for your best interest. "Hakeem spends most of the year living in Jordan. But he comes down every summer and we work out on the track. He still works out like he did when he played in the NBA. I run with him. And then we get on the basketball court and do skill-development work. Then if he doesn't have any prior engagements, we'll just play basketball games for the rest of the day."
Q: Tell us about the experience of leading Midland College to the NJCAA national championship game last spring.
A: "It was a priceless experience. Even though you'd love to win it all, you can look at it as though sometimes by losing you come away with a lot more than the team that won the championship. That trip to Midland College really renewed my spirit. It was a refreshment or a baptizement, of sorts. Because after I left Pittsburgh, honestly I was fed up because I felt like I should have played more. But (coach Jamie Dixon) is a great coach; he knows what he's doing. And I realize now that obviously I wasn't giving as much as I needed to give. So going to Midland really renewed my faith, and it renewed that passion and that fire to come back and try to be the best player that I can be. Reaching that championship and seeing how far we could go, it's motivation. It really made me hungrier, because I had a taste of it. I want it again."
Q: How often do you make it back home to the Bahamas, and do your parents ever make the trip to the states to watch you play?
A: "My mother has seen me play one time, I think. I usually get to go home maybe once a year if I'm lucky. I don't think I'll get to go home this year, maybe next year I'll be able to. I don't think a lot of people could handle that. I've been away from home since I was 16. And I've only been home less than 10 times since then. That forced me to grow up a lot. "And my family is able to come visit me maybe once every couple years. My mother calls me and texts me often. I talk to my brother and my cousins. Even though I miss them more than anyone could imagine, I realize that what I do is for them. I want to see them happy at the end of the day. That's all that matters."
Q: What's something the Tennessee fans would be surprised to know about you? Do you have any hidden talents?
A: "I like to write poetry and cook. (laughs) I wish that could be `off the record.' "But I do. I love to cook. And I like to write a lot. I have a lot of ideas that come into my head, and I like to put them on paper or put them in my phone. Kind of like philosophy-type of thoughts. "Oh! And I have an obsession with doing laundry. It's my favorite thing in the world to do. I just like doing laundry. I guess that's just the way I was raised. I always had chores. I didn't have a lot of computer games. So I wrote and listened to music a lot when I was younger. I just love doing laundry. I like my clothes smelling fresh--it's therapeutic."
Q: Aside from basketball, what are your career aspirations?
A: "The best job for me would probably be--I can't narrow it down to any one job specifically--but I think I have an entrepreneurial spirit. I want to be a risk-taker in business. I want to see the rest the world. I don't know what job that would be, but I know the types of things I want to do. I want to see the world; I want to invest; I want to know what's going on with the economy--all those sorts of things. "I like to manage stuff, too. I love computers. So I don't know exactly what job or career that is, but right now I'm just following my heart. Wherever that takes me, I'll figure that out down the road."
Q: Did you play any sports other than basketball while you were growing up?
A: "I was actually a catcher in baseball for a summer. But my mother stopped letting me play as a punishment. That was pretty much it."
Q: Who is your favorite pro athlete in a sport other than basketball and why?
A: "I'd have to say Kimbo Slice. Aside from the fact that he's a Bahamian, I just watch him fight and relate it to basketball. He's just fearless. He isn't a confrontational guy, but he does what he has to do to win and take care of his family. His drive and passion to win is unlike anything I've ever seen. He's just a monster. "With all the rules of MMA, he might not do as well there, but I'll always be a loyal fan. To see his videos from before he started doing MMA, he just comes out with no fear and you can see the passion in his eyes. Then as soon as it's over, he shakes your hand and tells you, `Good job.' He shows good sportsmanship. So I don't care what anyone else says about him, he's my favorite athlete."
Q: What's the one non-sports TV show you can't miss?
A: "I have several. I watch Big Bang Theory. It's funny. I like to watch old cartoon shows like Samurai Jack and some anime stuff. The Boondocks, I like that, too. I'm not sure if it still comes on, though."
Q: What three words would you use to describe head coach Cuonzo Martin?