Larry Miller: Tar Heel Legend and ABA Single Game Scoring LeaderThis article was originally published in the October 2005 issue of Tar Heel Monthly; since that time, L.A. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant scored 81 points in a game versus the Toronto Raptors.
Larry Miller won both the ACC Player of the Year Award and the ACC Tournament MVP in 1967 and 1968 as a Tar Heel, an accomplishment that not even Hall of Famers Bob McAdoo or Michael Jordan matched. North Carolina won most of its games by comfortable margins in 1968, but South Carolina took the Tar Heels to overtime in the ACC Semifinals. Miller played all 45 minutes, scoring 24 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in an 82-79 North Carolina victory.
North Carolina earned an NCAA Tournament bid by crushing North Carolina State 87-50 in the ACC Championship. The 6-4 Miller had 27 points and 16 rebounds in a 91-72 rout of undefeated St. Bonaventure in the NCAA East Regional Semifinals, outscoring and outrebounding Hall of Fame center Bob Lanier (23 points and 9 rebounds). Miller says, "That showed what we had been trying to tell people all year--that we had a really super team. To this day I believe that we had the best team in the country that year, player by player."
After victories over Davidson and Ohio State, North Carolina lost 78-55 to John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins in the NCAA Championship Game. Miller declares, "I'm going to get in trouble for saying this, but it came down to this: they asked us what we wanted to do—'Do you want to run?' I said, 'Let’s run with them. We can beat them.' But the decision came out that we didn’t want to run with them. Of course, Alcindor was the greatest player, but I believe to this day that we had more talent than they did."
Miller regrets a missed opportunity when he drove to the basket against Alcindor, the NBA's career scoring leader who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: "My first shot of the game I clanked (off the back of the rim) going for a layup. I should have dunked it. Even if it wouldn't have counted (because of the no dunking rule in college basketball at that time), I should have done it just to let them know that I wasn’t scared."
Miller set the ABA's single game scoring record as a member of the Carolina Cougars with 67 points in a 139-125 victory over the Memphis Pros on March 18, 1972. Miller broke Jerry West's mark for most points by a guard in a pro basketball game and to this day only David Thompson (73), Michael Jordan (69) and Pete Maravich (68) have surpassed Miller.
One of Miller's favorite Cougar memories is playing alongside George Lehmann: "If you gave him the ball he could shoot it but he could also pass it. When he was running the fast break, if he didn't shoot the ball he knew that I was on the wing somewhere and then I would get the ball and I could take that one step and take an easy jump shot. That was the best situation I was ever in. Unfortunately, it only lasted about half a season." The financial instability of the league--resulting in constantly shifting rosters, a parade of coaches and uncertainty about getting paid—is a major reason that Miller retired at 28.
Miller missed graduating with his class by one course (he was in L.A. signing his first pro contract during the final exam) but he went back to North Carolina at 38 and got a B.S. in Business Administration. He describes his post-basketball life simply: "I was in the real estate business in North Carolina and Virginia for the past 30 years. Right now I’m just enjoying myself."
Miller recently conducted an online auction of his Catasauqua (Pennsylvania) High School, North Carolina and ABA memorabilia. He says, "I don't think I walked away with a trophy when I left North Carolina. I didn't have anything. They just started sending me things from Carolina, trophies and stuff. I just figured that they didn’t want them…it all ended up in my parents' house." After both of his parents passed away, Miller did not want to keep storing the items and thought that an auction would be a great way to raise money for the Catasauqua Library and for Catasauqua High School.
Miller did not go to any North Carolina games during last year's title run, but hastens to mention, "I was at the '82 one and the '93 one and the '81 one when they lost to Indiana. I didn't go to this one, but my heart was with them, absolutely." He adds, "I've got blue blood…I keep in touch with everybody, all the players and coaches. I'm in contact but I'm just not in the reunion business and I mean that sincerely…I've done my thing and it's over with. It's nothing personal against anybody."
posted by David Friedman @ 1:13 AM