Meridian Star


January 2, 2014

TSOUKALAS: Miller’s 600 wins a product of passion

Last week, in a blowout victory, Southeast Lauderdale girls basketball coach Joe Miller earned his 600th win. There have been plenty of memorable moments for Miller, last week’s 73-38 win over Sumter Central (Ala.) doesn’t even come close to topping the list.

    Let’s start with his first win, a victory over Kemper County on Nov. 10, 1990 — his birthday. No. 400 gave him his third title, as the Lady Tigers took down Choctaw Central, 58-53, in the 2006 3A state championship game. Miller’s other three state championships in 2001, 2008 and 2013 stand out as well. In fact, he should probably think about investing in a second house in the Jackson area considering he’s taken Southeast to the Big House eight of the last nine years.

    If you ask him though, Miller will tell you it’s more about the players he has had the opportunity to coach. There are plenty of them too.

    Leading the list has to be Monique Horner, who broke the state’s career scoring record with 4,853 in 2001. That year, Horner was the leader behind Miller’s first state championship team, earning The Clarion Ledger’s Player of the Year award. Tiawana Pringle also earned a Player of the Year award in 2006 en route to helping Miller to his second title. All-state members, Lucy Ruffin and Martika Hull were both on that 2006 team. They were also a part of Miller’s third championship year in 2008. Crystal Clay, another all-state player, helped lead the Lady Tigers to a state title last season, recording a double-double while battling a hurt knee in the championship game.

    Those are just a handful of girls. Miller will tell you every girl he has had the opportunity to coach in his 24 years at Southeast has been memorable.

    In those 24 seasons, Miller has put together a 600-186 record — a winning percentage of .763. To put it in perspective, that’s less than eight losses per season. While the loss column isn’t very large, Miller has still seen his fair share of heartbreakers.

    No loss was more painful than in 2009, when the Lady Tigers fell, 66-43, to Raymond in the state championship game. The contest proved even more devastating for Southeast as star point guard Brittany Roberts suffered a game-ending knee injury just 25 second into the game. The losses only make Miller stronger. Instead of dwelling on his defeats, he spends just enough time focussing on what went wrong in order to prevent it in the future. Like in 2005 when Southeast lost 56-45 to Choctaw Central only to come back and top the Warriors in the state title the following year.

    However, the record books can only tell you so much about a man who has helped shape the life of so many young ladies throughout the years. To watch Miller on the court is like looking out at a storm. His intense, in-your-face approach has rubbed some spectators the wrong way over the years. But, each thunderous explosion only further demonstrates Miller’s passion, not only for the game but his girls as well. He still cares about his players’ success the same way he did when he took the job, not an ounce of passion less.

    At the age of 67, this will probably be Miller’s last hundred milestone. He considered retiring prior to the start of this season, but once again his passion brought him back to the game. Miller said he plans to coach “a couple more years” before riding into the sunset, hopefully with a fifth state title in hand.

    Until then, enjoy him while you can Lauderdale County. There might not be another like him for quite some time.

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