By now, Isaiah Miller has had almost a half dozen regular season games to get acclimated to his new surroundings and teammates at Newton High.
But it’s what he did in game one of Newton’s 2016-17 campaign on last Friday against Class AAAA No. 1 Henry County that is, perhaps, the greatest expression of how Miller feels about his fresh start in his senior year.
Miller had already gotten loose on a couple of fast breaks against Henry County that night which produced several dunks that electrified the crowd — but none like his late third quarter windmill flush that sent fans reeling and his teammates rallying around him.
After Miller’s most flamboyant jam of the night, he back peddled to the other end of the court while facing his own bench and made a motion across his chest with his hands drawing attention to the word “Newton” written in blue letters across his white jersey.
It was his way of letting his new coach and basketball family know how grateful he was to be with them in his last year of high school.
“During that moment, it felt great,” Miller. “It’s just a new environment for me. It’s a better fit for me. I should’ve probably come here earlier, but I love it.”
The refs didn’t love Miller’s gesture, however.
The 6-foot-2 guard, who played his first three years at county rival Eastside, got hit with a technical foul for the celebration. But the fact that the crowd was still buzzing and Miller, his coach and teammates were still slapping each other with glee while the Henry County player was attempting free throws, showed that nobody really cared much about the tech.
Everyone was just as happy to have Miller as Miller was to be there.
“I thought he was just showing a sign of what he was proud of,” said Newton coach Rick Rasmussen, regarding Miller’s celebratory antics. “I think he was just excited for what he did. You hate to see excitement be seen as a bad thing, but it is what it is.”
Translated: If getting a technical foul for a good-natured celebration is the worst thing that can happen with Miller on the court — and that night against Henry County it was about his only mistake made — then Rasmussen and his fifth-ranked Rams will gladly take it.
“He’s making sacrifices, but he’s also bringing a lot to the table for us,” Rasmussen said. “He’s unselfish. He’s a team player, and he wants to win. The team, the team, the team is what we preach here, and he’s been nothing but selfless. He could be scoring more, but look at the team results.”
Newton’s off to a 3-0 start, and Miller, indeed, is probably one of Georgia’s most electrifying scorers and athletes on the court when given the opportunity to show it.
Last year while at Eastside, he averaged 25.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 4.3 steals per contest to lead the Eagles to a 20-10 mark and state tournament appearance.
But now on a team with two other high scoring Division I prospects in J.D. Notae — who signed with Jacksonville earlier this month and scored a career high 41 points in a game last Saturday — and sophomore Ashton Hagans, Miller realizes he may not always get the same opportunities to score as in the past. And he says that’s just fine with him.
“I know it’s gonna be like that in college,” Miller said. “I know I’m going to be surrounded by a bunch of players who are that good or better, so I’m trying to prepare myself for it now. I love playing with these guys here. It’s fun.”
Don’t get his enthusiasm to be on Newton’s roster twisted, though. Miller said he has absolutely no ill will toward Eastside. And his move had nothing to do with anything bad happening at his old school.
Miller just said he felt like it was time for a change.
“I just wanted to make it a great season, get my grades right and get ready to go to college,” Miller said. (Eastside) wasn’t bad. It’s just that this situation is much better for where I was.”
Rasmussen — who got an up close look at Miller last year when his then-Eastside teammates split the Rams in two regular season games — says that he’s seen Miller’s game take large leaps forward in just the one offseason he had with him.
“He’s staying out of foul trouble, making good decisions and picking his spots, knowing when to contest shots and make baskets,” Rasmussen said. “He’s finding out how to play a role and be a part of a talented team. That’s more important for college recruiters anyway. They want to see that you can fit in, play a role and pick your spots and know it’s not just about you. Isaiah has shown that.”
But he’s also had his opportunities to flash that high-scoring form from a year ago, particularly on Friday night when Newton defeated Class AAAA defending champion Liberty County 104-71 at the annual Hoopsgiving Showcase at Holy Innocents. Miller had 29 points, seven boards and two steals in the contest.
And though Miller can get down court on an outlet and wow a crowd with the best of them, dunking, believe it or not, isn’t what he likes to do best.
“Oh no,” he said. “I like rebounding. I like banging with big people down low.”
Said Rasmussen: “Good thing about rebounding guards is they can get out and start the break.”
The longtime Newton coach also said that he’s not concerned as much with Miller’s ability to stuff the stat sheets as he is with the intangibles his athletic ability brings.
“He’s noticeable as a player,” he said. “He’s a very exciting part of our team. He’s extremely athletic. His jump shot’s improving and he’s moving without the ball. He’s a very creative player. Very artistic, and that’s enough.”
After an opening week that saw Miller and the Rams test their mettle against top-ranked foes from varying classifications, Miller said he’s excited to see the action come closer to home.
On Tuesday, Newton will host Heritage-Newnan, and then Friday is the first of two rivalry tilts in Miller’s old Eastside stomping grounds.
No doubt, it will be a game that features high emotions and ultra competitiveness. But while Miller will be excited to play Eastside, he said he doesn’t want to dwell too much on what was.
“You can’t stop and go back to the past,” he said. “You have to go forward now.”