Steven Miles and his father walked into American Coach Jeff Jones's office more or less unannounced in the summer of 2000, a few months after Miles had left Coastal Carolina and Jones had taken over the Eagles.
"The only promise we made was that he would get a chance," Jones said. "We figured we had nothing to lose. He and his father seemed pretty confident that he would earn his spot."
The Hayfield High alumnus had found quick success at Coastal Carolina, leading the team in points, rebounds and assists and earning Big South rookie of the year honors before leaving midway through a disappointing sophomore season.
"He was a delightful kid to coach," said Coastal Carolina Coach Pete Strickland, a DeMatha graduate. "He worked his tail off every practice, he was a lot of fun to have on the team. The whole thing was very puzzling."
But Miles said he relished the anonymity of starting over as a walk-on at American, where his work ethic in practice earned him a scholarship halfway through his transfer year.
"I was prepared to handle that big-man-on-campus role," Miles said. "But the decision to transfer was kind of a long time coming. I realized that Coastal wasn't for me, that I wanted to get somewhere closer to home."
Miles averaged 11.2 points and played a key role in the Eagles' turnaround last season. But when Patriot League player of the year Patrick Doctor graduated after last season, Miles (6 feet 2, 200 pounds) struggled while adjusting to his new role, which he described as "very small forward." It required him to pick up not only some Doctor's scoring but also rebounding and defense against taller opponents.
Miles said an ankle injury that limited his minutes against Pennsylvania on Jan. 8 served as a wake-up call, and since the Patriot League season began, he has been the league's most prolific scorer, averaging 19.8 points in Patriot play and 15.4 overall. He is the only league player ranked in the top 10 in points, rebounds and assists as the third-place Eagles (10-11, 5-3) begin a critical week tonight against Navy (6-15, 2-6) in Annapolis before taking on Lehigh (14-7, 6-2) at home on Saturday.
In the Eagles' first 13 games, Miles struggled, making about one-third of his shots.
"He was asked to play a new role," Jones said. "In retrospect, he might have been trying to do too much in terms of scoring. So we sat down and talked, and I told him I'd rather have the Steven Miles that scores and does a bit of everything than the Steven Miles that just scores."
Miles responded, and since opening conference play, he is shooting 48 percent.
One of the more versatile perimeter players in the league, Miles leads the league in three-pointers made (26) and is sixth in three-point percentage (42). Miles has become most effective by picking his spots to penetrate, such as in Saturday's 70-56 victory over Bucknell, when he spearheaded a 9-0 run that broke open a close game in the second half.
But there were no fist pumps or even claps to get the crowd going. Glenn Stokes is the Bender Arena favorite, engaging the fans while Miles quietly goes about his business.
"He's a very serious kid," Jones said. "He's focused about his performance, and he's very intense in that respect. He just expresses it a different way."