The date: Feb. 1, 2011. The place: Oxford, Mississippi. The game: Kentucky at Mississippi. On a critical possession in the final minute, with Kentucky clinging to a one-point lead, Darius Miller, the Wildcats' 6-foot-8 junior forward, twice had the ball in his hands with a clean look at the goal.
He passed. Both times.
The possession ended with a rushed, errant three-pointer from Miller's teammate, DeAndre Liggins. Twelve seconds later, Ole Miss guard Chris Warren buried a game-winning three-pointer.
Fast forward a year later. Feb. 21, 2012. Kentucky at Mississippi State. The Wildcats faced a 13-point halftime deficit and trailed by seven points with eight minutes to play. Kentucky coach John Calipari, who had benched Miller early in the game after he passed up an open shot -- "My coach never had to take me out because I didn't shoot," Calipari cracked later -- had just put Miller back into the game. Miller responded by drilling a three-pointer to cut Mississippi State's lead to seven. Two minutes later, Miller attempted another three and was fouled. He made all three free throws to cut the lead to four. He hit two more threes down the stretch to propel the Wildcats to a 73-64 victory.
Miller's name didn't appear in many headlines the next morning, but that was nothing new. Throughout his career in Lexington, Miller has been overshadowed by flashier, younger teammates. But there was one prominent witness who offered righteous testimony to what the kid had just done. "Miller is the fiber that holds that team together," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "He has got one thing nobody else on the team has. He has got experience. ... All those other guys deserve what they get, but Miller is their most valuable player."
That sentiment is popular around the league. "He's a killer," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "When it's the moment of truth, he makes so many critical plays." Florida coach Billy Donovan said he has "always loved" Miller. He added: "I just think he's a 'steady Eddie.' He's an incredible core guy that probably in a lot of ways is overshadowed. ... I always just see him doing whatever he has to do to help his team win."
Miller may be overshadowed in most places, surrounded as he is by all those one-and-done lottery picks, but there is one venue where a player of his ilk casts the biggest shadow of all. For his clutch shooting, his toughness, his maturity, his versatility, and most of all his passion for doing whatever it takes to make Kentucky a winner, Darius Miller has been selected as the captain of SI's 13th annual All-Glue team.
Miller is a genuine throwback, which is ironic considering he plays for the program that has been the very embodiment of one-and-done recruiting. (To great success, I might add.) Miller is a senior (yes, a senior at Kentucky) who has gotten a little bit better each year. He possesses the classic glue guy's blend of power and finesse. At 6-8, 225 pounds, he has the body of a power forward, yet he strokes threes as well as any two guard in America. He also has the requisite mentality to be a glue guy. Most seniors would bristle at having to play a supplemental role in their final season, but Miller has chosen to embrace it.
He admits that mindset hasn't come easily. As Calipari has adjusted his lineup multiple times this season, Miller has had to adjust right along with him. He started UK's first game, came off the bench in the next nine, was reinserted into the starting lineup on Dec. 20, and was yanked for a good 10 games later. "I guess I was shocked," he says of that last decision, "but there's a great amount of talent on this team."
Instead of resenting his younger teammates, Miller mentors them. Point guard Marquis Teague said Miller even checks to make sure the freshmen get up in the morning so they're not late for class. "He's taking care of us," Teague said. "He's making sure everything goes as it's supposed to go." Added another headline-grabbing freshman, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, "I love Darius Miller for who he is. He's a brother to me now."
Miller understands that starting a game is not nearly as important as finishing it. According to the
That road game at Mississippi State is not the only example. During UK's 69-63 win at Vanderbilt on Feb. 11, Miller scored all five of his points in the final 10 minutes and made a critical late assist to sophomore guard Doron Lamb. When Vanderbilt came to Lexington on Feb. 25, Miller broke open a close game by scoring seven quick points midway through the second half to give Kentucky its only double-digit lead of the night. The Cats went on to win, 83-74. "I admire him as a player," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "He's a big shot maker and a really good player for them. He really, in my opinion, appears to have sacrificed himself for the benefit of their team."
That has been a slow but steady process, as evidenced by the way he handled those games at Ole Miss last year and at Mississippi State this year. "I've always thought I was good enough to play here, but there were times when I was too laid back because the other guys were so talented. So I felt like I didn't have to do much," he says. "I kind of limited myself in that respect, but now I'm much more confident."
During a period of great change at Kentucky, Miller has been the constant. A former Mr. Basketball at Kentucky from Maysville's Mason County High, Miller has had two coaches and 40 different teammates in Lexington. If Kentucky wins the NCAA championship, Miller will be the first player from the Commonwealth to be named Mr. Basketball, win a high school state championship, and then win an NCAA title for UK. That would be quite a legacy for a guy who has had to be ordered to take big shots.
Miller's character shines through as much as his talent. He won't be remembered in Lexington for putting up great stats, but regardless of what happens these next four weeks he will go out a winner. That's what glue guys do. "He's a wonderful young man," Calipari said. "He's one of the best human beings, he cares about people, he's humble. I'm happy he's on my team, and our players are happy he's on their team."
Herewith, the rest of the 2012 SI All-Glue team, followed by a complete list of the 12 past teams and captains:
The Bears have developed a reputation for having too much talent and not enough toughness. Acy is the exception. While he possesses stunning athleticism -- as a sophomore, he once had 10 dunks in a game against Texas -- he is not as skilled as the team's other forwards. Yet, Acy is Baylor's most tenacious rebounder, as well as its most consistent defender and most vocal leader. "He motivates a little differently than I do," Baylor coach Scott Drew says with a chuckle. "He'll grab guys, get in their face a little. He's the one who will huddle the guys up when something is going tough in a game. If there's a players-only meeting, Quincy is the one who will call it."
When Acy first came to Baylor as a midlevel recruit out of Mesquite, Texas, he was so unpolished that he had a hard time converting two consecutive baskets in a layup drill. He has worked so hard to overcome his weaknesses that last Monday he had 22 points and 16 rebounds in a win over Texas. Though Acy often defers on the offensive end to sophomore forward Perry Jones III and junior point guard Pierre Jackson, he has converted a team-high 58.3 percent of his shots and averages 12.1 points per game. He has also attempted the most free throws on the team (40 more Jackson, who is second, and 69 more than Jones), and he ranks in the top five of the Big 12 in rebounds (7.3) and blocks (2.0).
Last weekend, Acy was voted to be on the Big 12's all-defensive team, but what impresses Drew the most is Acy's maturity. When Acy first got to Baylor, says Drew, "he was a young kid for his age, a happy-go-lucky guy. The prankster." Acy learned a lot playing alongside forward Ekpe Udoh, who went on to become the sixth overall pick in the NBA Draft, and now he has taken it upon himself to set that same example for his younger teammates. "If you had told me the day he got here that he's going to be your leader his senior year, I don't know that I would have seen that," Drew says. "That toughness that you see on the court, he brings that every day to practice and the locker room. He's one of the best leaders we've ever had."
When Releford burned Oklahoma on Jan. 7 for 28 points -- 12 more than his previous career high -- he sounded as if he wasn't quite sure what to make of it. "I come into games trying to stop the opponent's top scorer, the best player on their team," Releford said afterward. "I don't really look to score."
If you take away that outburst, Releford has averaged a modest 7.8 points this season for the Jayhawks, but his performance against the Sooners underscores what Releford has sacrificed to get playing time. Though he was a coveted recruit coming out of Bishop Miege High in Kansas City, Releford ran into such a logjam in Lawrence that KU coach Bill Self convinced him to redshirt his sophomore season. Releford has never been an outstanding shooter, but he is a strong, explosive athlete who has develop what Self affectionately calls an "old man's game."
"I've tried to convince him to be the best perimeter defender in our league, and he takes pride in that," Self says. "He's not a bad shooter, but he knows when you're surrounded by that much offensive talent, you have to find other ways to help us."
Self points out that Releford's willingness to lock down the opponent's best perimeter scorer enables senior guard Tyshawn Taylor to conserve energy. Releford is also averaging 4.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.2 steals per game, and while he is not a big scorer he makes enough baskets to make opponents pay for overplaying Taylor and Thomas Robinson.
"He gets every junk basket for Kansas," says Kansas State coach Frank Martin. "You focus on Tyshawn Taylor in the open court, and Releford comes flying in there and scores. If you double down on Thomas Robinson, he attacks the offensive glass. He does all the little things his team needs him to do, and he doesn't get care who gets credit for playing the piano."
Taylor and Robinson have struck all the right notes for Kansas this season, but Martin knows how much credit Releford deserves for helping the Jayhawks win their eighth consecutive Big 12 title. Says Martin, "Nobody has a glue guy on a losing team."
During the summer before his senior year at Houston's Klein Forest High, Murray was a 6-1, 175-pound wisp who garnered little interest from Division I schools. Shockers coach Gregg Marshall, however, saw room for growth -- literally.
"He was this scrawny little kid, but you could see he was this young colt who could develop," Marshall says. "He had big feet, long arms. Since he came here, he has grown about four inches, and physically he's a man. Now he looks like a thoroughbred."
Marshall also remembers Murry drilling seven three-pointers in an AAU game, but ironically that part of Murry's game has actually regressed. Murry, however, made up for it by developing other skills. He developed a reliable midrange game -- a lost art in college basketball -- and turned himself into a great defender. (Murry was named to the Missouri Valley Conference's all-defensive team as a sophomore as well as this season.) With the team lacking a true point guard at the start of last season, Murray played that position for the first time in his career. When the teammate who was supposed to play the point, Joe Ragland, improved enough to take the reins midway through the season, Murry shifted to the wing. This season, he shifted even further to the small forward.
Murry has done a little of everything at Wichita State, but it has added up to a lot. He is six assists away from becoming the school's all-time leader. He also ranks second on the school's all-time steals list, he's in the top 10 in games played, three-pointers and free throws made, and he's 11th in scoring. His versatility and savvy has held the Shockers together through tough times, and he is a major reason why they played their way into the national rankings and claimed the Missouri Valley Conference regular season championship.
"The beautiful thing about him is that he's so malleable," Marshall says. "Talk about the ultimate glue. Whatever we've needed him to be, he has been that guy."
Marshall is one of the nation's most dynamic athletes, a powerful leaper whose monster slams have become a staple of late-night highlight shows. Runnin' Rebels coach Dave Rice, however, appreciates the more subtle aspects of Marshall's game. He is a versatile scorer, playmaker and defender who can be put in at any spot and any situation and somehow find a way to be effective.
"The way we play requires a lot of interchangeable parts," Rice says. "Anthony has become a much better distributor, he can score from the perimeter, and we post him up quite a bit. In fact, he has become one of our more reliable low-post scoring threats."
Rice has asked Marshall to do many things, and each time he has given the quintessential glue guy's response: Whatever you need, coach. Though Marshall was primarily a scorer during his first two seasons, he was sixth in the Mountain West Conference last year in assist-to-turnover ratio. When Rice took the job last spring following Lon Kruger's departure to Oklahoma, one of the first things he did was inform Marshall he would be spending more time at the point during his junior season. Meanwhile, Marshall continues to draw the toughest defensive perimeter assignments, from North Carolina's Kendall Marshall to San Diego State's Chase Tapley to New Mexico's Kendall Williams.
Marshall may not be the best scorer in the Mountain West Conference, but he is the league's most versatile player. He is UNLV's third-leading scorer at 12.0 points per game, and he ranks second in the Mountain West in assists (4.8), eighth in rebounds (5.2) and steals (1.53), and he's 10th in free throw percentage (72.3). He is the only player in the conference who is averaging 12 points, five rebounds and four assists.
"He's just a tough matchup because of his athleticism but also his strength," Rice says. "He's a leader and has a tremendous work ethic. He's the guy who stays after practice and shoots every day. He just works hard, does whatever we ask and makes everybody better."
Few players in America do more things well than Gutierrez. He ranks second on the Bears in scoring (13.0), rebounding (5.4) and assists (4.0), and he leads the team in steals (1.2). He is also sixth in the Pac-12 in free throw percentage (78.4) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.78-to-1). Last year, Gutierrez was named first team All-Pac-12 and was voted to the league's all-defensive team. This year he has received Pac-12 Player of the Year honors. He is sixth on Cal's all-time assists list and he ranks fifth in steals.
Yet, it is Gutierrez's passion and flair that will be most remembered in Berkeley. With his long, dark, curly hair flopping in his trademark ponytail, Gutierrez has attacked the game just like he has attacked everything else in his life. "Everyone on the team gets their energy from him, because he just plays so hard," Bears coach Mike Montgomery says. "He has always played with a chip on his shoulder. Given his background, he feels like he has had to earn everything he has gotten."
Indeed, the only thing more compelling than Gutierrez's game is his story. A native of Chihuahua, Mexico, Gutierrez emigrated with two classmates to the U.S. at the age of 16 and played for Lincoln High in Denver. The school was about 90 percent Latino, and Gutierrez and his roommates often did not have enough money to cover heat and groceries. When the school won a state championship in 2007, it set off a firestorm of protest. One local radio host turned it into a referendum on immigration. Gutierrez eventually transferred to Findlay Prep in Las Vegas, but Montgomery didn't give him a scholarship offer until the end of his senior year -- and that was only because Cal had unexpectedly lost a recruit to another school. Montgomery never saw Gutierrez play until he came to Berkeley.
Suffice to say, he made an immediate impression. "He embarrassed the seniors into playing hard," Montgomery says. Gutierrez is by nature shy off the court, but he has come out of his shell as his English skills improved. His basketball skills have improved as well, but more than anything he marches to the beat of his glue-guy heart.
That is most evident at the defensive end. The guards around the Pac-12 can tell you that -- as can Weber State's Damian Lillard, the nation's leading scorer whom Gutierrez harassed into a 4-for-17 shooting night when the teams played on Dec. 16. "He's an ongoing presence defensively. He's a pain in the ass, frankly," Montgomery says. "You never get a free moment. You never get a chance to breathe. Every time you catch it, he's there. Jorge is just a great kid who takes pride in who he is and what he does."
Back in early January, the University of Michigan unveiled a brand new player development center. To honor the occasion, the school invited some of the program's alltime greats to attend the Wolverines' game against Wisconsin. Several hours before tipoff, the greatest of those all-time greats, Cazzie Russell, walked into coach John Beilein's office and made a request. "I want to meet Zack Novak," he said.
Young players these days like to say that real recognize real, but this was a case of real recognizing glue. Russell understood what all great players know: It takes a lot more than big-time scorers to build a winner. As Russell later told WolverineNation.com, "I looked at him [Zack Novak] and told him if I were going into an alley to fight, he would be the first guy I would grab."
Few players in college basketball fight as effectively as Novak. He came to Ann Arbor as an outside shooting specialist, but for most of the last two seasons he has played -- and defended -- as a power forward. "He might be the only combo two-four man in the country," Beilein says. "He has total command of our locker room. On defense, sometimes he'll push people in the back and yell, 'Get over there!' That's what makes him our glue guy."
As a senior at Chesterton (Ind.) High, Novak was pudgy and slow, which is why the main Division I schools who showed interest at first were Valparaiso, Oakland and IPFW. Beilein took a chance on Novak because he was trying to build the program around good students and good shooters. Novak, however, showed so much spirit and toughness that Beilein named him the team's co-captain when he was just a sophomore -- only the second sophomore in school history to be given that honor.
Michigan's spurt to the second round of the NCAA tournament last season was propelled by Beilein's decision to move Novak to power forward in early January. Later that month, Novak reached iconic status when he was caught on camera screaming at his teammates in a huddle during a win over Michigan State.
As a senior, Novak has had his most consistent offensive season. He is logging career highs in points (9.5), field goal percentage (48.8), three-point percentage (40.5) and free throw percentage (85.7). Part of the reason he is so effective at guarding some of the best forwards in the Big Ten, from Michigan State's Draymond Green to Indiana's Christian Watford to Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas, is that he is able to run them ragged for open shots at the other end of the floor.
Novak may have a lion's heart, but he also has an owl's mind. He carries a high grade-point average at Michigan's prestigious Ross Business School. "He's an academic All-American, but he's also a hard-nosed blue-collar guy," Beilein says. "Normally you have one or the other, but it's pretty rare to find someone with both. When you have those guys, you usually win."