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January 24, 2007Wes Miller is hesitant to reveal his true feelings toward North Carolina as a child because he grew up the son of a Wake Forest alumnus, but he concedes he is looking forward to his final game against the Deacons at Lawrence Joel Coliseum, a place in which he attended games before he was old enough to even appreciate what was happening.
The fourth-ranked Tar Heels (17-2, 4-1 in the ACC) will play the Demon Deacons (9-9, 1-5) at 7 tonight. The game will be televised on ESPN.
Miller, age 23, said he figures his family took him to games when he was an infant. His first actual memories occurred in the early 1990s.
"The ones I can remember the most were the ones when Randolph Childress and Rodney Rogers were playing for Wake Forest," Miller said. "We went to so many games growing up. I always said my dad brainwashed me for the first 18 years of my life. He had me thinking Carolina was the Evil Empire. But that is how it is.
"In baseball," Miller said, "everybody hates the New York Yankees because they win. In the ACC, there are no other fans that like Carolina. That is just the way it is."
Miller is now a proud member of the Empire. He even owns a national championship ring with North Carolina carved into it. His Deacon dad, Ken Miller, was there to see it happen. Watching his son play for UNC has been a life-changing experience for the elder Miller, Wes said.
"He's been great about it," Miller said. "He's up in the stands, and he cheers for Carolina. He cheered for Carolina when I didn't play a minute the national championship year. He cheered for Carolina when I started. He is cheering for Carolina now, whether I'm in the game or not.
"He's an alumnus of Wake Forest, and he's spent his life supporting that university," Miller said. "It has meant so much to him. He still has a big place in his heart for Wake Forest."
He has a larger spot for his oldest son, of course. When Miller was walking off the court at St. Louis after UNC won the national championship, he said he saw his father and one of his younger brothers in the stands celebrating. (Miller has three brothers and a sister.)
"He said that it [national title game] was one of the most electrifying moments he's ever been a part of, too," Miller said. "It was a special moment for my whole family. I saw him as I was walking off the floor. He was sitting there with my brother. They were just laughing and taking pictures with their camera phones. That is what kind of moment the national championship was."
Miller attended prep school with Rashad McCants. Then-UNC coach Matt Doherty saw Miller play while watching McCants and offered Miller a chance to walk-on at Carolina.
Miller had gone to prep school to enhance his chances to play college basketball, but he wanted to be a scholarship athlete. So he said no to Doherty and attended James Madison on scholarship. After his freshman season, Roy Williams had become coach at Carolina. He gave Miller a second chance, and this time Miller could not say no.
"At the time [Doherty offered]," Miller said, "the scholarship thing was such a big deal to me. I don't know if it was me not being confident enough. But after I decided to transfer with Coach Williams being here, there is no way I could turn that down.
"Playing for Coach Williams, I want to be a basketball coach some day, and when I made my decision to come here, one of my primary decisions was to play under the person I think is the primary coach in college basketball and to learn from him."
Miller has never regretted becoming a part of the Empire. He's a proud member.
"My experience here has been Wes Miller's dream," Miller said. "It has been the absolute dream I've had my whole life to have this kind of experience. All I dreamed about was playing ACC basketball, and it was taken a step further when I was able to play basketball for North Carolina.
"It's just been my ultimate dream."
He says tonight's game is not as big a deal as many people think, but he concedes it will be special to play Wake Forest one last time at Lawrence Joel.
"I did watch so many games in that building, that to go back into that building and play a game is pretty cool," Miller said. "When I was a kid, I said I want to play in the ACC. I said, 'I want to play on this floor.'
"To be able to go do that is a neat feeling, but to say that is something I look forward to all year, that I mark on my schedule, it's really not that at all."
He's far more concerned with trying to earn a second ring.
"We're at a point right now that we've done some nice things," Miller said. "The most important thing is that we're better now than we were in December. We were better in December than we were in November. If you look at where we've come from, we're happy with that, but you can never be satisfied with where you are. You always want to keep improving.
"The same thing goes for how we play defense. Yeah, we have done some nice things. We have had some nice halves. We've had some nice possessions defensively, but at the end of the year we want to be a much better team defensively than we are now."