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Diamond Miller has all the moves to take Maryland deep in the Big Dance

Greenville 1 Region: No. 2 Maryland vs. No. 15 Holy Cross, 2:30 p.m. Friday (ESPN News)

Diamond Miller's acrobatic layup against Penn State on Jan. 30 shows how far she's come. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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Lance Miller has been giving his daughter dancing lessons for years. He’d turn on the music and explain — one-step here, two-step there.

Like the electric slide or something like that,” he said. “It’s the same way to do a big-time Euro move, is that you’ve got to put your right foot there, and then your left foot here.”

Diamond Miller, Maryland’s three-time all-Big Ten guard and likely WNBA lottery pick, has been dancing on opponents all season as one of the most dominant players in college basketball. She was named second-team all-America by the Associated Press on Wednesday. Last week, Miller stood inside an empty Xfinity Center last week, giving a makeshift basketball tutorial when it was time to go to the video. As she tried to describe a moment from January, she fell silent while watching on a cellphone, muttering: “I didn’t expect that.”

Miller watched herself catch the ball as she crossed the left side of midcourt against Penn State as four defenders drifted in her direction. A quick dribble between her legs to her right hand and a crossover back left took two Nittany Lions out of position. A long-stride Euro step split a pair of defenders but left Miller almost directly under the basket. She rose with the ball on the right side of the rim, all 6-foot-3 of her extending and flailing, when she spun the ball high above the square on the backboard as the crowd gasped.

“That’s a little beyond me,” Miller admitted. “I can’t believe I did it.”

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That’s the Miller who has been unleashed on college basketball this season after being slowed by a knee injury in 2021-22. In just about every game, there’s been a moment that has left the home crowd screeching or opposing fans begging for a traveling call, refusing to believe Miller could cover so much ground legally. She hears the reactions and laughs.

But it’s all the culmination of what Lance labeled “thousands and thousands” of hours of training. The former Villanova starter who played professionally overseas drilled the importance of footwork into his daughter from an early age. Now that lanky frame tiptoes through defenses like the Grinch at breakneck speed as one of the best finishers in the country.

“I’m lucky both of my ankles are feeling good right now,” Michigan State guard Julia Ayrault said after facing Maryland last month.

Maryland basketball player Diamond Miller shows off her moves during practice. (Video: Kareem Copeland/The Washington Post)

Miller detailed her process for The Washington Post last week, starting in the paint under the basket. It beings with alternating layups on both sides of the rim. Then there are varying placements off the backboard, switching up angles and the amount of spin. Next come reverse layups, and not using the backboard at all.

Miller then backs up to show off her signature up-and-under, faking a normal layup before scooping the ball from down low to deceive opponents, and a variety of counters off that move. Most start with the crossover. Then there’s the spin off that. Or the fake spin when defenders overcommit. She initiates a pull-up jumper with a slight hesitation then finishes with a reverse layup. There are variations and countermoves to every action depending on how teams try to defend. And worst-case scenario, if she hasn’t wove her way around those opponents, Miller can use the strength gained over the years to absorb contact and get to the free throw line — her 234 attempts rank second in the Big Ten. Oh, and don’t forget the one-legged, midrange fadeaway that brings memories of former NBA MVP Dirk Nowitzki. It’s the shot she used to bury Notre Dame with a buzzer-beater in December that had Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry praising her on social media.

“She is so hard to guard,” Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder said after the Big Ten semifinals, in which Miller scored 21 points and shot 16 free throws in an 89-84 loss to the Hawkeyes. “She can just go with the up-and-under after you think you’ve got her stopped and you don’t have her stopped. Fabulous player. Going to be a great WNBA player. I know Diamond had 21 points, but that girl’s capable of 40 points.”

The journey has been long and winding. There was the short girl who played soccer because she was fast before a seventh-grade growth spurt where she started sprouting three inches at a time. Miller came out of high school rated the No. 17 prospect in the country by ESPN and quickly learned her skinny frame and old moves didn’t serve her the same way on the collegiate level. Up next was the weight room, protein shakes and snack packs to put on pounds and muscle. Miller has always been quick enough to get to the rim, but finishing was another thing — so that became a focus. The finishing improved, but then defenses adjusted and she needed countermoves. Her 19.7 points per game is a career high, but her 21 percent three-point shooting is a career low and Miller knows there’s still plenty of work to do.

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Miller doesn’t want to talk much about the WNBA draft, which is less than a month away. There’s still a bit of disbelief that she’ll be paid to play basketball professionally soon. When the season began, the prevailing thought from WNBA personnel and analysts was that Miller was a first-round prospect who bordered on the lottery. Now most mock drafts have her solidly at No. 2, behind reigning national player of the year and defensive player of the year Aliyah Boston.

“I don’t hear a lot of people talking about anyone else as the No. 1 pick besides Aliyah Boston, but I think you have to put Diamond in the conversation,” analyst Debbie Antonelli said. “Just from a pure WNBA-ready standpoint.

“And that is not taking anything away from Aliyah Boston. … At 6-3, [Miller is] long, she’s athletic, she can score at three levels. She has a handle, she can blow up ball-screen action because she can guard one through four. Can she impact the game without taking 12 shots? Yes.”

Miller and Maryland begin the NCAA tournament Friday as the No. 2 seed in the Greenville 1 Region hosting No. 15 Holy Cross. This will be the third tournament in four years for Miller — the 2020 edition was canceled due to the pandemic — and the team has never been lower than a No. 4 seed during that span.

Miller said she feels more comfortable than ever this season and credits years of offseason work with her dad, trainer Kerry Foderingham and many coaches who took part in her development. She’s practiced those unpredictable moves so many times that they seem effortless during games. Additionally, there’s been a maturity this year where Miller can pick her moments to be aggressive while making sure teammates get involved.

Lance used to pick the music during those dancing days, but now his daughter controls the tunes.

“I feel like no matter what, it’s pretty hard to guard me one-on-one,” Miller said. “And if a team wants to guard me one-on-one, that would be lovely. I’m lucky and blessed that God gave me these wonderful arms where I can do awkward stuff. But for me, it doesn’t feel awkward, but it might look awkward to other people.”