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Bob Miller

What about Bob? Boy, could he play!
Bob Miller flew to greater heights than any other Andover Eagle

Staff Writer

10th in a series...

To hear Bob Miller tell it, it's a wonder that he became a great basketball player at all.

"Nobody in my family was sports-oriented," the 69-year-old Miller said from his home in Maryville, Tenn. "I don't know how I came into liking basketball."

All of which leads one to believe Miller was a naturally gifted athlete who developed a passion so quickly and in such a consuming manner that he became a great player on his own. That desire and work ethic, combined with some help from some adults who recognized that passion, made it happen.

Boy, did they ever make it happen! In a three-year varsity career at old Andover High School from 1956 until his graduation in 1959, Miller scored 1,067 points. That ranks 27th all-time in Ashtabula County among boys players.

The thing about it is, the 6-foot-4 Miller was a mark of consistency in his three seasons with the Eagles, who compiled a 49-25 record over that period. He scored 357 points as a sophomore for Shirley Wilson in his sophomore year for a 14.3 average, added 323 points as a junior for Bill Swift for a 14-point average, then finished with 387 points for Glenn Niday for a 15.5 average. That comes out to a 14.6 average for his career.

Ask Miller about it, though, and he isn't all that impressed with what he achieved.

"When I played basketball, I never considered myself an outstanding player," he said. "I just enjoyed playing."

He is stunned to learn he scored more 1,000 points in his career.

"Points never meant that much to me," Miller said.

But those numbers and the accomplishments of the Andover team, which was in its penultimate season before its was consolidated into Pymatuning Valley High School, speak for themselves. They are testament enough to Miller's performance that he has been selected as part of the Class of 2009 for the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame.

That is a distinction he finds almost bewildering.

"I was very surprised," Miller said. "I didn't know anything like this existed. The first I knew anything about it, I was talking to (old teammate) Larry Russell at my brother-in-law's funeral and he mentioned something about it."

Nor is it an honor Miller would have sought. He knows who's responsible, as much as his own efforts, for getting him into the hall of fame.

Bob Miller (kneeling, third from right) and his Andover Eagle teammates
pose before the 1957-58 season. The Eagles are (kneeling, from left)
Larry Russell, Doug Heath, Lowell Sawry, Miller, John Schaffer and
Karl Wooden and (standing, from left) coach Bill Swift, Jim Melton,
Bob Spellman, Dick Kirker and Don Warner.

"I know all the old records from Andover High School have pretty much been thrown away," he said. "Sid McPaul (who has taken on a role as an unofficial historian for basketball tied to PV schools) started asking questions. I know I owe Sid a lot for helping me get into the hall of fame."

Actually, Miller thought more highly of some of his teammates and his opponents than of his own abilities. One foe in particular earned his respect.

"I played against Jim Dodd from Grand Valley," he said. "I always considered him a great player. He was quite a shooter. I consider myself nothing compared to him."

Dodd, who is also in the ACBF Hall of Fame and still ranks third all-time among county boys scorers with 1,377 points, believes Miller should not sell himself short.

"Bob was always a formidable opponent," Dodd, who still resides in Rock Creek, said. "We had some good battles with him when we played against Andover. Bob was an excellent post player. He certainly is worthy of the Hall of Fame."

The only way Miller remembers picking up the game was strictly by accident.

"In the seventh grade, I used to go over to the farm that Walter Daniels, who is (PV athletic director) Ross Boggs' father-in-law, owned," he said. "He had a hoop up in his barn, which had a dirt floor, and he had a ball and I used to go in there and shoot all the time. I loved it."

That sparked a desire in Miller for his own playing area at home.

"I wanted a hoop at home, so I talked to my dad about it," the son of John and Mary Miller said. "My dad and I went out into the woods and cut down a big tree and put it up. Then we made a makeshift backboard and put up a used hoop on it. I don't know where we got the hoop from. I guess either I bought a ball or my parents bought it for me."

Young Miller even went a step farther, trying to construct his own court. It was not a good decision.

"I went out and cleared off an area to put up the hoop and I covered the area with sawdust," he said with a laugh. "That was a big mistake because I couldn't dribble the ball."

But he made the best of it anyway.

"I just decided I could still practice shooting, so that's what I did," Miller said.

He had plenty of examples of how he should play.

"I used to watch college and professional basketball all the time," he said. "I used to admire (Boston Celtics guard) Bob Cousy for his ballhandling. I probably didn't really work on ballhandling much at first.

"I also liked (Minneapolis Lakers center) George Mikan, who was famous for his hook shot. I practiced that a lot."

He also got into organized basketball in junior high. All 12 grades were in the Andover building.

"I remember my first coach was Mr. Day. I don't even remember his first name," Miller said. "I was sitting on the bench for one game and all of a sudden he called my name. I remember I went into the game and was scared to death."

BOB MILLER (12) OF ANDOVER AND JIM DODD (3) OF GRAND VALLEY square off in a game Friday, Jan. 10, 1958 in
Orwell. Miller will join Dodd as a member of the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on March 29.

But apparently Miller survived the trauma. He continued to improve to the point that he became acclimated.

"I probably felt pretty comfortable by the time I was a freshman," Miller said. "I played JV ball as a freshman."

Fly like an Eagle

He cracked the varsity lineup as a sophomore for Wilson. The coach probably liked the product he had in Miller, a tall player in an era where anyone taller than 6 feet was considered a big man.

"I was 6-foot-4, 175 pounds and skinny as a rail," Miller said. "I couldn't gain weight no matter how hard I tried, and I ate like a horse."

Playing for Wilson was a beneficial growing experience for Miller.

"He really taught the fundamentals," Miller said. "That was very important for me because I was pretty raw."

Miller provided Wilson with a consistent scoring threat. The Eagles finished with a 13-12 record that year and lost in the first round of the Class A sectional tournament to Chagrin Falls.

But for his junior year, Miller and his teammates, a rather young group, were greeted by Swift, who was only 23 himself. Those Eagles featured only two seniors, nine juniors and five sophomores. Among his teammates that year were classmates John Schaffer, a 6-3 forward, Karl Woodin, a 6-1 forward, Lowell Sawry, another forward, senior point guard Doug Swift and sophomore Wendall Hayes. Miller's younger brother, Richard, who still resides in Andover, was also a teammate.

"Coach Swift was a young guy, but he seemed like he was a lot older," Miller said. "We were excited about him because he pushed us to get in shape. He taught us a lot of the fundamentals of ballhandling. He was the first coach who established different kinds of plays.

"Karl Woodin was an excellent shooter. Doug Heath was a real good ballhandler."

The Eagles responded to that system to the tune of a 16-7 record and a share of the county Class A league championship with Grand Valley and Rowe. They lost in the first round of the sectional tournament to St. John.

One of the key games of that season was a 54-52 victory that Andover earned at Grand Valley against the Mustangs, who featured Dodd. Dodd won the scoring duel with Miller, 18-15, but Woodin chipped in with 22 points and Swift dished off for key assists to win the game.

"That was a pretty good game," Miller said succinctly.

But the Eagles encountered another new coach in Miller's senior year in Niday. Miller found the new coach to be similar in demeanor to Swift.

"They both tried to give you confidence," Miller said. "I don't remember either of them getting extremely mad. They were very encouraging.

"The only way I knew Coach Niday was mad was that he made us run more laps when we'd had a bad game. He'd say he thought we tired out at the end of the game."

Apparently, that didn't happen often in Miller's senior year as the Eagles went 20-5, won the county championship again and made it to the second round of the sectional tournament before losing to Fairport.

It was a big year individually for Miller, too. He ended up earning recognition as the county's Class A Player of the Year, beating out players like Williamsfield's Jim French and Jim Humphrey, Spencer's Lyle Pepin and a player who gained even greater stature later as a coach, Rowe's Harry Fails, who is in the ACBF Hall of Fame for his efforts on the bench at Conneaut.

"We always had trouble beating Rowe when Fails played there," Miller said.

He doesn't make much of a fuss about his individual honor.

"That was a pretty good season," Miller said in his typical understated manner. "I was pretty proud of it."

After Andover

Miller did have a brief brush with college basketball.

"I really had no thoughts about playing college ball, but Bill Porter, who was the principal at Andover then (and later superintendent at Geneva) pushed me to do it," he said. "My freshman year, I played at Kent-Ashtabula, but then I dropped out."

He went into the work force with General Electric, for which he worked for 37 years until his retirement in 1999.

"I worked at their Andover Ball Plant for 21 years until they close it," Miller said. "Then they sent me to Memphis, Tenn. and I worked there for 16 years until I retired."

Miller and his second wife, the former Beverly Kick of Dorset, have been married for 25 years and call Maryville, Tenn., a town 22 miles southeast of Knoxville their home.

"We're right in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains," Miller said.

He and Beverly have a daughter, Michelle. Miller also has adopted Beverly's children from a previous marriage, David and Daniel, who is deceased.

Miller has two children of his own from a previous marriage. Alan was a standout player, but injury-plagued, career at PV for Terry Marsh and Denny Smith, growing to 6-8, and an even better career at Hiram. David is also a PV graduate.

He and Beverly keep very busy.

"We do a lot of volunteer work with our church," Miller said. "I also do a lot of craft fairs. I have my own woodworking shop and make things like birdhouses. We also enjoy gardening."

Basketball still means a lot to Miller.

"I remember playing basketball in high school was so exciting," he said. "I couldn't wait to go to practices or games. I thought we had real good teamwork at Andover.

Beverly and Bob Miller

"I played for the fun. If you don't do something for fun, why do it?"

He loved high school in general.

"I look at high school as some of the best years of my life," Miller said. "It all taught me to respect others. If you want to accomplish something, you've got to work hard.

"Basketball has helped me learn to stay in shape. It taught me how to set goals and reach them. It taught me to be polite."

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