Miller pointed in right direction

Mystics guard key part of offense in playoff run

Pro Basketball

August 21, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - It figured that during the biggest week in Coco Miller's professional life, her identical twin sister, Kelly, was nearby.

When Coco, the second-year shooting guard for the Washington Mystics, was named the WNBA's Most Improved Player before Thursday's playoff opener, Kelly was down on the other side of MCI Center watching and applauding with the rest of her Charlotte Sting teammates.

And when Coco was scoring Washington's last seven points in Game 2 last Saturday to propel the Mystics past the Sting and into tomorrow's Eastern Conference finals, Kelly, born four minutes earlier, was watching from the Charlotte bench.

The Miller twins, both 5 feet 9, have rarely been apart, from their high school days in Rochester, Minn., to their collegiate career at Georgia, where both players scored more than 2,000 points on the court and were scholar-athletes off it.

All of a sudden, however, it seems that Coco, who scored a game-high 21 points in the Mystics' 62-59 series-clinching win over Charlotte, is finally getting some separation from her sister, and just in time to help Washington make a push toward the franchise's first berth in the WNBA Finals.

"We're two different basketball players," said Coco Miller, whose given first name is Colleen. "We're similar in ways, but we play very different. I think we can play without each other. We've proven that. We love playing with each other and we have a lot of fun when we play each other, and sharing those moments are great. I wish Kelly could have shared the high moments in the last game. That would have been great. She's always supportive of me."

Indeed, there were questions whether Coco, who was taken ninth in the 2001 WNBA draft, seven spots behind Kelly, could adjust to playing without her sister, but also if she had the temperament to play at this level. Coco is admittedly her own worst enemy and was known at Georgia to let the smallest mistakes send her into a tailspin.

"From playing against them in the SEC, I know that was the knock, that they get too emotionally involved and too into it," said Washington forward Chamique Holdsclaw, a former Tennessee star who faced the Millers regularly in college. "I see where it comes from. She's such a perfectionist, and when she's not [perfect] she gets down on herself. You're not going to become a great player, if you're like that all the time. You have to learn to let things go. She's realizing that you have to learn not to beat yourself in the head all the time."

Miller, who averaged 1.7 points and just under seven minutes a game in 2001, didn't play enough last year to beat herself up. She found herself jockeying for playing time at shooting guard behind incumbent starter Nikki McCray and reserve guards Helen Luz, Audrey Sauret and Tonya Washington.

"Last year was tough," said Miller, whose sister was similarly logjammed in Charlotte. "I really struggled the whole season and I tried to get through it the best I could. It's no fun sitting on the bench. I was cheering for my teammates, but I really wanted to be out there contributing in some way, and I wasn't able to do that. I was very disappointed.

"I kept thinking about last season all during the off-season. I couldn't imagine going through another season like that, so I did everything possible to make sure that didn't happen again."

Miller also got a break when the Mystics dealt McCray, one of their anchor players, to the Indiana Fever for a package of players and a first-round pick in December. Not long after the trade, new coach Marianne Stanley called Miller to tell her that she had a shot to start this year if she was willing to work.

"For her, it was being given the opportunity, and for us to have a mind-set where we're not a one or two-player team, where everybody's capable of contributing," Stanley said. "That window of opportunity was there for her this year, and she made the most of it. She came to camp ready and she had a great training camp, and it snowballed from there."

Miller is still hard on herself for her mistakes, but the miscues are coming far less frequently, and she is confident enough to recognize that and to believe in herself.

"Last year, I came in kind of uncomfortable and kind of uncertain at times," Miller said. "I knew that this [professional basketball] was for me and that this has always been a dream of mine. I knew it would take time, because there are a lot of veteran players in the league, and finding my niche would take a little while. I just didn't give up, and I knew that eventually I would come around, and that everything would work out."

WNBA playoffs

First round

(Best of three)

Eastern Conference

Charlotte vs. Washington

(Washington wins series, 2-0)

Thursday: Washington 74, Charlotte 62

Saturday: Washington 62, Charlotte 59

New York vs. Indiana

(New York wins series, 2-1)

Friday: Indiana 73, New York 55

Sunday: New York 84, Indiana 65

Last night: New York 75, Indiana 60

Western Conference

Los Angeles vs. Seattle

(Los Angeles wins series, 2-0)

Thursday: L.A. 78, Seattle 61

Saturday: L.A. 69, Seattle 59

Houston vs. Utah

(Utah wins series, 2-1)

Friday: Utah 66, Houston 59

Sunday: Houston 83, Utah 77, 2 OT

Yesterday: Utah 75, Houston 72

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