CHAMPAIGN — Adam Miller’s earliest memory of attending an Illinois basketball game came in the final years of the Bruce Weber era.
Miller was in grade school and made the trip from Peoria to Champaign to see the Illini play.
Peoria coaching legend Wayne McClain was on the Illini coaching staff. Miller’s cousin, D.J. Richardson, was in a key starting role. Getting the chance to go back to the locker room after the game stuck with Miller.
“I was able to see all those guys after a big game,” Miller said. “That’s kind of ironic that I’m actually committed here now, and I was backstage with all them sweaty players and D.J. Richardson was back there giving me a wedgie and all that stuff. I loved it, though.”
Miller was back at what’s now State Farm Center for another Illinois game a week ago. The sellout crowd for that game against Maryland was the second of what’s now three in a row. More are coming, with both the Indiana (March 1) and Iowa (March 8) home games also sold out.
The atmosphere for last Friday night’s game was electric. It’s what Miller expected. He also expected the sequence of events that precipitated the sellout. Namely a seven-game Illinois winning streak in January that got the Illini into the Associated Press Top 25 and back into the national college basketball conversation.
“They’ve turned it at the right time,” Miller said. The Illini (16-8, 8-5 Big Ten) are still in the top tier of the Big Ten despite a three-game losing streak heading into Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. rematch with Rutgers (17-8, 8-6) in Piscataway, N.J.
“Everybody doubted them the whole season,” Miller continued. “Everybody’s been doubting Illinois, but they’ve been in transition. You can’t really judge what they did in the past. Now they’ve settled down and made adjustments, and they’re doing good. This is what I expected. I expected them to do good. They’re turning it at the right point and coming together, and I’m just happy to see them right this.”
Part of Miller’s recent trip to Champaign was a reaffirmation of his commitment. He knows people doubted him when he simply committed in late November and didn’t sign in the early period.
“Everybody wants to say I’m committed now because they’re winning,” Miller said. “Well, OK. I was still committed when they were losing. I’ve been locked in with Illinois from day one. This is like a second home to me.”
What Illinois has accomplished this season is something Miller said he’s had in mind since before he started high school. He received his initial Illinois offer from now former coach John Groce during his freshman year at Peoria Manual, and Brad Underwood quickly reaffirmed that offer before Miller transferred to Morgan Park prior to his sophomore season.
“To be honest with you, I had this in mind ever since I was in eighth grade,” Miller said. “As a kid, I’ve always been coming to the games. Illinois gear has always been in my house. I’ve always expected Illinois to do greater than they have, but it’s time and they’re ready to go. I’m just happy.”
Illinois’ breakthrough this season after Underwood started his Illini coaching career with a 26-39 record his first two years has raised the bar for what will be expected with Miller set to be a key part of the 2020-21 roster. The 6-foot-3 guard is embracing that.
“It gives me footsteps to follow,” Miller said. “I can’t achieve something that’s less expected. Coming in next year, there’s going to be a lot expected of me. That’s how my life’s always been. People expect a lot out of me, so I’m going to come in and work hard and hopefully get a lot of wins and try to push to the Big Ten tournament and make it to the national tournament.”
Miller, a five-star combo guard, is currently part of a three-man 2021 class for Illinois along with four-star point guard Andre Curbelo and three-star stretch 4 Coleman Hawkins. Miller’s already thinking about what a backcourt with him and Curbelo could accomplish.
“Man, Curbelo is a pro,” Miller said. “He does all the right things on the court. He just plays the game the right way. He knows how to play the game. He plays hard. I love playing with somebody like him who just wants to play basketball. The ‘Mamba Mentality’ that’s what I live by, and I see him live by it, too. He’s going to be a big piece of helping me win next year.”