CHICAGO — Adam Miller kept the crowd at the Jordan Brand Store on the edge of its seat Thursday night waiting to find out which school he had chosen for his college basketball destination.
A 6-minute video played before Miller emerged from a back room on the second floor of the downtown Chicago establishment, highlighting his basketball journey from Peoria to Chicago. Dressed in all black with a pair of red loafers, a wolf emblazoned on both, Miller didn’t give away his choice with sartorial choices.
When it came time to announce, the 6-foot-3, 170-pound four-star guard reached underneath the table he was sitting at and pulled a wolf mask from the bag placed there for him.
It was orange and blue. So was the confetti that exploded from the machine behind him.
It was Illinois. Miller was choosing to stay home, committing to Brad Underwood’s Illini.
“You know Duke and Kentucky and North Carolina are always going to get their fair share of players,” Miller said. “If you’re a great player and know you are and you’re not as highly touted as some, why not stay home and do it?”
First, about that wolf mask. And the wolves on his loafers. Miller uses AceWolf as his social media handle. Goes by it just as much as “Adam” it seems.
“AceWolf is who I am,” he said. “That’s my brand. As a little kid, I always wanted to be a superhero. I always wanted to be the greatest player in the NBA, but I always wanted to be a superhero. Me being AceWolf is like me being a superhero hooper.”
The next step toward superhero hooper runs through Champaign. That’s at least the plan. Miller’s Thursday commitment was just that, though. He didn’t sign before the early period ended Wednesday. His next opportunity to do so is between April 15 and May 20, 2020 during the regular signing period.
“I did not sign,” Miller said Thursday night. “I still want to look at everything. I’m 100 percent committed to the University of Illinois, but I’m still looking at everything. It’s a big factor in my life. It’s not just about the university. It’s about me benefitting the team and the team benefitting from me. I just want to know everything’s in place for me when the time comes.”
Miller picked Illinois from a trio of finalists that included Arizona and Louisville. That didn’t include a late pitch, though, from first-year Michigan coach Juwan Howard, who came to Chicago earlier this week to tout why the Wolverines would appeal to Miller.
“He showed me some of the plays, and I was like, ‘Yo, I would fit in that offense,’ ” Miller said. “We even put some of the plays in our offense. It was a really hard decision, but being able to do this at home and put on, that’s what I really want to do.”
That’s because Illinois is in Miler’s roots. He grew up in Peoria and played his freshman season at Manual alongside now Illini junior guard Da’Monte Williams. Williams, whose dad, Frank, played at Manual and Illinois, restarted the Illini’s Peoria Pipeline that also included the likes of Jerry Hester, Sergio McClain and D.J. Richardson.
“Why not follow it?” Miller said. “Why not keep the pipeline going?”
Miller moved to Chicago for his sophomore year. Enrolled at Morgan Park, where he’ll finish his high school career with a Mustangs team currently ranked among MaxPreps’ Top 25 teams in the nation.
“It’s like I’m from everywhere in Illinois now,” Miller said. “I was in central Illinois, and now I’m in Chicago. There’s so much talent — unseen talent — that people don’t know in this state. I feel like it goes really unrecognized.”
Miller’s mom, Andrea Garry, is 100 percent behind his decision to pick Illinois. The shorter drive to Champaign is definitely a perk. So is the family atmosphere at Illinois, which will include Williams during Miller’s freshman year.
“I think that is great for them to play together,” Garry said. “That gives them that energy — that mojo. It just brings a different energy back to Illinois by having two Peoria people there. Now Adam has a Chicago connection bringing it all together. It makes it even better.
“It’s wonderful just being able to see my little boy pick a school that he’s comfortable with, and it’s going to feel like home. When something feels like home, you play even better. Everything will come even more natural to him now that he’s staying home for school.”
The support Miller got from the Illinois coaches and players — Giorgi Bezhanishvili and Kofi Cockburn in particular during his official visit — made a difference. So did now fellow future Illini Andre Curbelo and Coleman Hawkins putting on their own version of the full court press.
The addition of Miller, who averaged 28.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 3.1 steals last season at Morgan Park, gives Illinois the No. 1 2020 recruiting class in the Big Ten and No. 11 nationally.
“Oh man, have they,” Miller said about Curbelo and Hawkins’ reaching out. “It’s been hard not to say anything too much because they hit me up like every day.”