You could say South Whidbey senior Donovan Miller’s basketball prowess grew with his height.
Miller, a 6-foot-2-inch guard for the Falcon boys basketball team, wasn’t always the tall, spry athlete that he is now.
Though he carried the same grin then as he does today, those who knew him during his youth may remember him differently. Miller was about 5-foot-6-inches tall in middle school. That was until the summer between Miller’s freshman and sophomore year when he had a growth spurt. The sudden change in his body took some getting used to initially, but once he did, it’s been smooth sailing.
“I kept training and then getting better at everything I could be better at and then when I sprouted, everything just came with it,” Miller said. “It made me taller and faster.”
Like most other kids who have quick growth spurts, Miller developed Osgood Schlatter in his knees. He said the pain could be felt for a few years before it recently started healing up and feeling better. Miller has been one of the Falcons’ top scorers this season, contributing the third-highest scoring output in each of South Whidbey’s five games this season. He scored a season-high 13 points against King’s in the Falcons’ 60-54 loss on Dec. 17.
“It’s a lot easier to play when you’re taller,” Miller said. “I can get more rebounds, I’ve developed a basketball shot and it just helps me with defense a lot with long arms and being able to block shots.”
His progress, however, hasn’t been easily earned.
Miller started playing basketball in the sixth grade after having spent much of his youth playing football. Most of his peers had already gotten their start in the sport by participating in Little Dribblers or other recreational leagues. Once Miller found he liked the sport, he had some catching up to do.
“I just picked up a basketball and started dribbling and I was like, ‘Wow, I like this,’ ” Miller said. “I just started dribbling every day to be the best that I could be.”
Miller enjoyed the team aspects of the sport, as well as the time he got to spend with his friends while playing. He was vividly aware of his skill sets at the time. Miller said he wasn’t that good at basketball in the eighth grade. But, during his sophomore year, he joined an Amateur Athletic Union basketball team from Mercer Island and saw his skills improve dramatically, as well as the amount in which he practiced. The AAU season begins at the conclusion of the high school basketball season and runs through the summer and into the fall. He was able to train every other day, play in tournaments, and witness many of the region’s toughest players in action on the court, some of whom included future Division I college recruits. Miller’s first time on a plane came just before playing in a 164-team tournament in Las Vegas in the summer of 2013.
“That was a huge experience,” Miller said. “Just walking around Vegas and enjoying the hot sun and living it up.”
Falcon head coach Mike Washington felt Miller’s experience with AAU gave him an extra appreciation of work ethic and determination.
“He’s capable of knocking down some shots,” Washington said. “He has the ability to put up 20 in a game. I wouldn’t be surprised if you see it before this season is done. He’s just the type of kid who just stays calm.”
His teammates said Miller is not one to back down from a challenge. He’s also a bit of a jokester on the team. But the work he’s put in to become a better player is easy to see.
“He’s come a long way and has worked to get good at basketball,” said senior Charlie Patterson. “He’s not afraid to take that big shot.”
In the Falcons’ 68-65 victory over Archbishop Murphy on Dec. 11, Miller contributed a pair of crucial three-point field goals for South Whidbey. The Falcons were trailing by 18 points at halftime before a surge in the second half pushed them ahead. Miller’s points rallied his teammates to continue playing hard, which ultimately helped lead them to victory.
“I think it brings a lot of energy because I like to hype up the team and get everyone pumped,” Miller said. “I feel like if you’re pumped, you’re tougher and you like a challenge more and to see and live up to your potential. I feel like if we play as hard as we can, we’re pretty much unstoppable.”
The victory was extra sweet, considering the Wildcats were projected to finish above the Falcons in the Cascade Conference preseason polls.
Miller wasn’t exactly deterred when the preseason polls predicted the Falcons would finish second to last in the league. Rather, it served as motivation.
“I think it pushes us more to accomplish more and achieve more than just staying at the bottom,” Miller said. “We wanted to prove to everyone that we weren’t that bad and we were better than what they told us we were.”
Basketball is a primary passion in Miller’s life, though it comes second after family. Miller plans to attend community college after high school and continue playing basketball.
“I just love getting in the gym and I love shooting and doing everything about it,” Miller said.
“I’m just really excited for the season ahead of us to see what we have coming,” Miller said. “I’m ready for the playoffs and hopefully we’ll make it to state,” he added.