Too many times scouts and coaches are mesmerized by players who can leap tall buildings in a single bound or throw a football through a wall or who can run, throw, catch, and hit for average and power, and they overlook the one component that makes all that ability work. I have been in many NFL draft rooms and seen the emphasis, or lack of it, that teams put on predicting a player's productivity. It sounds cliched, but heart is the last great unmeasurable when projecting a young athlete's career. Will he compete when we need him? Some draft rooms have a list of players off to one side of the main board of prospects under a red "C." Those players are character risks, and I have seen names in that column that are eminently recognizable. I have also been in draft rooms that did not have the "C" list, and they paid for it later.
With the 2012 draft class, the Hornets should have no worries. All three are from strong families with parents who taught them early that success in life begins with working hard, doing things the right way and staying away from those who don't. That fact is testament to the Hornets' philosophy of bringing in players who are skilled, but who also have that intangible that sets the great teams apart. The Saints have the same philosophy, drafting and signing players of good character who can be relied upon when things get tough. And the Hornets' 2012 Draft class offers some good examples of this philosophy. You want proof?
Anthony Davis' parents beamed when he was introduced to the New Orleans press corps last week. Davis's father Anthony Davis, Sr., and mother Erainer were dwarfed by their 6-10 son, although AD Sr. is 6-3 and Mother is 6-1. Asked if his son ever got into trouble as a kid, Dad responded: "No. Not one time. He is a great kid. I am blessed. I am truly blessed with the way he is. We take pride in being with our kids and teaching them the right things because you always want to be treated as an equal."
Rivers' background is a bit more public since his dad, Doc Rivers, played in the NBA and has been head coach of the Boston Celtics for eight years. Despite Dad's fame, the Rivers clan is unquestionably headed by Mom Kris and includes older brother Jeremiah, who is playing in the NBA Developmental League, sister Callie and youngest brother Spencer. Asked if his son could have played for him, Doc responded it would be tough, but only because the first time he had to bench Austin, Kris would make him sleep on the couch.
The least known of the trio is Darius Miller, who might be the most popular athlete in a sports-mad state. He was the only senior among the six Wildcats drafted and was usually the first man off the bench during Kentucky's national championship run. Not a bad sixth man, considering he had been Kentucky's Mr. Basketball, was a three-year starter before his senior year and was named MVP of the 2011 SEC tournament. His biggest fans are mother Nicole and father, Brian, who was a pretty good player himself, at Morehead State and still lets Darius know he can take him on the court.
"Nicole gets tired of hearing it, but yeah I still tell him," Brian said recently. "I didn't take it easy on him when he was younger." Brian sees his son's maturity as a major factor why the Hornets were attracted to him. He was signed by Billy Gillispie, and after Gillispie was fired, he had to adjust to a new coach and staff, but Miller adapted and prospered. "Darius was the glue, in my opinion," Brian said of UK's championship team. "He had the most experience, and he brought leadership to a team that had a lot of talent. It's hard to set aside personal goals for a lot of kids, but Darius was always all about winning and team. He was that blue collar worker, he led by example and he sacrificed for the betterment of the team, which carried over to everyone."
Today, Darius will be grand marshal of the Fourth of July parade in his home town of Maysville, Kentucky. Things like that happen to people of good character.
Jim Miller's new book, "Where the Water Kept Rising," is now available in local bookstores and at his website: www.JWMillerSports.com