Coco Miller – Washington Mystics

There is little doubt Coco Miller’s second season in the WNBA has been a breakout one. A player some dismissed as “non-WNBA material” last year, Miller’s name now appears on many people’s Most Improved Player list.

The 9th pick overall in the 2001 WNBA draft, Miller joined a Washington Mystics team in transition. Coming off a 14-18 in 2000, the Mystics hoped a new leader, Australian Olympic coach Tom Maher, would turn the team around. But, as in previous seasons, a team with enormous on court talent struggled with chemistry and consistency, and they finished a disheartening Eastern Conference worst 10-22.

The team’s struggles mirrored Miller’s. Only playing in 20 games, she averaged 6.9 minutes and shot .325 percent, scoring a meager 1.7 points a game.

Fitting into a new system for a rookie is particularly challenging in a league that little time for a learning curve. “It was just tough,” admits Miller. “I felt that sometimes I would be put in the game and if I’d make a mistake I’d get taken out. I lost my confidence near the end of the season.”

While some experts second-guessed the wisdom of the Mystics draft, Miller ignored such talk. “Personally, I don’t read papers.” explains Miller. “That’s just someone’s opinion – and a lot of times – maybe they haven’t ever even seen a game.”

Reflecting on last season, the Georgia graduate acknowledges she’s encountered her share of rough patches. “It’s happened to me during stretches of certain seasons, but for the period of time?” She laughs ruefully. “That was my first experience with that type of situation, and it definitely wasn’t pleasant.”

The end of the 2001 season found Miller undeniably disappointed with her performance, but also determined. “I just vowed to come back this year and not let that year repeat itself,” she says. “I’d work so hard in the off season that the coaches wouldn’t have any other option BUT to give me that chance.”

Her usually intense off-season workouts became even more so – a regime of cardio-vascular work and increased weight-training made her physically stronger and more confident. She also trained with Steve Pratt, a specialist who’s worked with NBA players.

“He taught me different offensive moves I could use, how to exploit defenses,” explains Miller. “I wanted to be more versatile, so I worked on my ball handling, so I could play the point guard and the 2-guard position.”

She put her new skills to the test, reuniting with her twin sister Kelly to play for the National Women’s Basketball League’s Birmingham Power. Shooting 56% from the field, Miller averaged 18.6 points and almost four assists and rebounds per game, Miller found their short season to be a perfect fit. “It was close to the start of the (WNBA) training camp and got me prepared.”

Miller also benefited from the arrival of new Mystics coach Marianne Stanley. “She’s been great – what I needed,” says Miller. “She’s left me to go out there and make a mistake and (her attitude is) ‘So be it.’ I get hard on myself if I make mistakes to begin with,” continues Miller. “I think she’s a perfect fit for my kind of play.”

And Miller’s play has been most impressive. Starting every game, she’s playing 28.6 minutes a game, shooting 42%, averaging almost 10 points a game while dishing out 3 assists. Miller’s success is reflected in the play of the team as a whole. Under Stanley’s leadership, making a strong run for the playoffs.

“She’s given every person confidence to go out there – not worrying about making mistakes,” explains Miller. “They don’t have to worry as much, and it gives you freedom. She’s very intense,” Miller adds. “She wants the best for you and she wants the best for the team.”

Miller has particularly enjoyed the chance to play point guard, a position she never played in college. Usually choosing to lead by example, Miller appreciates the unique skills required of a point guard. “They have to be vocal, make sure everyone’s in the right spot,” she says, “trying to organize the offense. That position is mentally tougher than the two-guard. I enjoy that challenge.”

Miller won’t call her success, or the team’s, a surprise. “I’ve wished this was the way things would turn out at this time of year,” she says. “I’ve been given a chance to play and show what I have. And I’m thankful for that.”

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