By CHRIS LARICK
Back in the late fall of 1979, Pymatuning boys basketball coach Denny Smith had an eye on the prizes, a Grand River Conference championship and a long run in the tournament.
Six-foot-eight Laker center Alan Miller dreamed of a Division I college scholarship.
All of those hopes came crashing down during a preseason press-breaking practice.
“I just came to the middle like I’m supposed to do and they lobbed the ball to me,” Miller told then-sports editor Darrell Lowe after the season had ended on May 1, 1980. “I went up in the air and came down. I landed on the side of (my foot) … heard some ripping and tearing. I went down and within 20 seconds it was huge.”
Miller, who had averaged double figures in scoring and rebounding and was a first-team All-Grand River Conference and All-Ashtabula County selection as a junior, had surgery the following day but missed his entire whole season. Anticipated Division I offers never came. He took his basketball talents to Hiram College, where he fashioned a nice career.
Miller, who will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation’s Hall of Fame on Apr. 2, had only taken up playing basketball in the seventh grade.
“I had no interest in it, but my buddies convinced me to go out,” said Miller, the son of Peggy Ernst and Bob Miller. “In the seventh grade I was horrible, only played in two or three games. In the eighth grade I played every game and scored some points.”
The Laker coaching staff moved Miller up to JV as a freshman. He was only 6-foot-1 at that time, but shot up to 6-5 as a sophomore and to 6-6 1/2 or 6-7 as a junior.
He started as a sophomore, and was “pretty much something to be reckoned with,” as he puts it, by his junior season.
“I did well,” he said. “I might have made honorable mention (all-league) as a sophomore, and played pretty well as a junior.”
The following fall he got as far as two scrimmages before his accident.
“I was looking forward to my senior season with great anticipation,” he said.”Then it happened. The highlight of my senior year was climbing hills and going to pep rallies with a cast on my leg.”
Miller’s downfall was also difficult for the Laker team, which would have teamed Miller with a talented and improving junior, Maurice McDonald, and a sharpshooting senior guard, John Lipani.
“John and I spent a lot of time together,” Miller said of Lipani. "We played a lot of basketball together, enjoyed the sport and the competition. We took it to each other. I was going to be the inside force and he had an excellent jump shot. We had big anticipations. Denny Smith might have shed a tear or two (when I got injured).”
By spring sports season, Miller was pretty much healed and took part in track.
“My buddies talked me into that,” he said. “I did the high jump and threw the shot put. I had no form, but had a lot of leverage. I whipped (the shot) out there.”
Miller did get a few college nibbles from schools like Cleveland State and Kent State. Bobby Huggins, then coaching Walsh, expressed a little interest. But eventually, it came down to Hiram.
“When all is said and done, I have no regrets,” Miller said. “I was a four-year starter at center on the varsity squad every game of my career. I pretty much played all the time. I couldn’t have done that at a Divison I school.”
During Miller’s freshman year, he played alongside Brad Ellis, the Geneva sharpshooter who went on to become coach of the Eagles for several successful seasons and is in the ACBF Hall of Fame while also serving as president of the ACBF.
“He was at the heyday of his career,” Miller said of Ellis. "He was a good shooter and a good teammate and player.”
For his own part, Miller figures he averaged about 13 points a game for his career, winding up with either 983 or 987 points for the Terriers.
Playing center, Miller contributed, especially on the offensive end of the court, from his freshman season.
“I got a good share of rebounds, too, and was always a pretty good shot-blocker,” he said. “I had a pretty good leap for my height. I got my first dunk in competition as a sophomore in high school. I hung on the rim and got a technical.”
Miller majored in business management at Hiram. He was a President’s Athletic Conference honorable-mention pick as a freshman, moved up to the second team by his junior year and won third-team honors as a senior.
In 2000 he was inducted into the Hiram College Athletic Hall of Fame.
“We won the league my senior season and made the Division III playoffs,” he said. “We went to Norwich, Connecticut. There were four teams there. We lost the first game, but the second night we won the consolation game. It was a wonderful experience.”
After graduation he went into the Electrolux Vacuum Cleaner trainee program before beginning a career in the lumber industry with 84 Lumber. He spent 19 years there, before moving to Carter Lumber, where he has worked for the past 10 years, currently in Burton, Michigan, near Flint. His wife, Laura, works for the City of Flint water department.
Alan and Laura have two sons: Warren, 22; and Andrew, 20. Both have inherited Alan’s height. Warren is 6-10 and Andrew 6-7 or 6-9. Andrew played basketball at Mott Junior College for a year.
Alan has a brother, David, two years younger than he is, who is retired from the military and now works at Wright-Patterson.
“There are a lot of good basketball players in (the Flint) area,” Miller said. “I have an opportunity to see a lot of great basketball. I don’t play much any more.
“I played pretty hard for three or four years in a men’s league, but I have arthritis in my joints, really bad in my shoulders."