Dan Miller says he has no regrets. But that's hard to believe, isn't it? Who wouldn't have second thoughts after passing up a chance to be part of a national champion in favor of joining a team that hasn't advanced past the second round of the NCAA tournament since 1987?
Miller, who abruptly left Maryland after its first Final Four appearance in 2001 and transferred to Notre Dame, says he knew the Terrapins likely would win the national championship the season after he departed. That possibility, however, was not enough to keep the 6-foot-8 senior forward at Maryland. He was looking for something that three seasons as a Terrapin hadn't given him.
"It was just more of a comfort thing," Miller said. "I was not as comfortable playing there as I am here."
With new-found serenity intact, Miller comes into MCI Center on Saturday eager to face his former team in the BB&T Classic. Notre Dame (6-1) will play Maryland (3-1) following the George Washington-Texas game at 1 p.m.
"It's definitely a game I've had circled on the calendar for a year and a half," Miller said. "But I have to approach it like every other game. I can't get too excited."
When Miller left Maryland following the 2000-01 season, he did not sever his ties to the program. He kept in close contact with several of the players, particularly Juan Dixon and Steve Blake. The day after the Terrapins won the national championship, Miller called Dixon to offer his congratulations.
"When he left Maryland, we talked on the phone a couple times a week," said Dixon, who now plays for the Washington Wizards. "He's a great friend. . . . He never had a problem with the players. He got along with everyone well. He just had problems with his situation at Maryland."
Miller started 34 games as a sophomore at Maryland but lost his starting spot to transfer Byron Mouton during his junior season. He went from playing more than 30 minutes to less than 20 minutes a game. His scoring average dropped from 8.5 points to 4.8 points per game.
As a former high school all-American, Miller had difficulty adjusting to his diminished playing time. He had not come to Maryland with the intention of being a reserve. He wanted to be a major contributor.
But if Miller felt underappreciated, his teammates didn't see it that way.
"We definitely could have used Danny last year," Dixon said. "He was a big part of the things we wanted to do at Maryland. He left because he wanted a bigger role. He wasn't happy with his role at Maryland."
After sitting out last season because of NCAA transfer rules, Miller has flourished in his new surroundings. On Monday, he scored 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the Irish's 92-71 upset of No. 13 Marquette. Miller, who has started all seven games and averaged more than 30 minutes per game, is the Irish's third-leading scorer at 17 points per game and second-leading rebounder at 7.4 per game.
"He's crafty as heck," Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey said.
Brey said normally he would be reluctant to take a transfer with only one year of eligibility remaining. But because the Irish had lost a lot of veteran leadership the past two years, he knew the team would benefit from adding a player who had been to a Final Four.
"Chemistry-wise, you have to make sure it is going to be a fit," said Brey, whose relationship with Miller dates from when Brey coached Miller's older brother, Greg, at Delaware.
"I thought with three seniors leaving who had played a major role there was a big hole to fill."
Brey acknowledged that had he known Miller was going to be on Notre Dame's team this season he would not have scheduled the Irish to play in this year's BB&T Classic. He would rather Miller not have to face the intense scrutiny and pressure that comes from playing against his former team.
"This is not Dan Miller against Maryland," Brey said. "I just want him to keep playing the way he's been playing and not get out of character. . . . He had three great years at Maryland, and he gave them three great years. There's a mutual respect: Dan to Maryland's program, Maryland's program to Dan. He's got a little swagger to him. He's excited about the atmosphere."