EDITORS NOTE: Paul Miller is one of ten 2013 U.P. Sports Hall of Fame inductees. The Daily Press is launching a four-part series detailing the four local inductees beginning today.
ESCANABA - According to Paul Miller, the perfect basketball team consists of two seniors, two juniors and a sophomore. But a great team is more than just that simple configuration of ingredients.
Miller, an Escanaba native, knew the keys to a successful coaching career and was armed with the wisdom of great mentors to help guide him to over 300 career victories, including a Class C state title in 1981.
For his efforts, Miller has been selected as a 2013 U.P. Sports Hall of Fame inductee.
Though Miller's induction credentials likely center around his '81 state championship team with Stephenson High School, Miller's high school career was rich with highlights. He was the first 1,000-point scorer in Escanaba High School history and still holds the records for points in a game and season.
"We were the winningest, highest scoring, biggest defensive spread team at Escanaba. We were tough," Miller said Friday in a phone interview, while taking a break from a country motorcycle ride in Indiana.
A 3-year starter (1965-67) for the Eskymos, Miller led the team in scoring and broke the single game scoring record four times in one season. Miller was also a standout on the Eskymos' football and track teams, but what sticks out in Miller's mind is the battles he had on the court with Menominee his senior year.
"One of the things I'm most proud of is beating Menominee twice my senior year. Menominee won the Class B state title that year and we lost in the semifinals in Class A, but we beat the state champs (Menominee) twice that year."
Of breaking records at Escanaba, Miller said "I had a great coach to help me with that."
Miller was referring to 1991 inductee Harold Johnson.
"Harold Johnson was my high school coach, my mentor," said Miller. "He was very knowledgeable, intense and unbelievably fair. I have all the respect in the world for him.
After high school, Miller played for 1985 inductee and NBA coaching great, Stan Albeck at Northern Michigan University.
"When I graduated, I had scholarship offers in all three sports I played. I'm happy about that. I chose NMU when Stan Albeck was coaching there," MIller said.
"Johnson and Albeck were two impressive and helpful coaches that I learned a lot from. When I was at Stephenson, I got some special plays from Stan and my 1981 team was so good, they were able to do more complicated things. The kids executed those plays perfectly.
"Stan moved to Denver my sophomore year and that was probably the most negative thing that happened to me. He was such a good coach."
Miller arrived at Stephenson in 1978 and in three years had a state title winning team.
Wisconsin transfer and All-State center Mark Simon was the centerpiece of a team that had to take the hard path and rose above the competition.
"I had a 6-foot-6 center in Mark Simons, a 6-foot-3, all-U.P. wingman in Steve Fredrickson and solid guards. We were loaded," said Miller.
During the '81 season, the Eagles didn't receive much state attention and throughout their postseason run, weren't favored by any of the major publications in Michigan, but led by Miller at the coaching helm, the Eagles made a run to remember.
"We beat a high rated Westwood team in the regional finals in overtime, then beat the defending state champions, Reed City in double overtime in the quarterfinals. IN the semifinals, we beat Grand Rapids Southern Christian," said Miller. "We were definitely in the wrong bracket. Everyone we played over the last four games was ranked in the top 10 in the state."
In the title game, Stephenson defeated River Valley at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor.
"River Valley had won the championship two years prior and had three starters back from that team," said Miller. "The Reed City game was the highlight. The talent the two teams had was sensational. I told my kids 'when we get the lead, they'll have to come out and get us.' We ran lob plays and back-door plays and just ate them up. The kids ran the plays to perfection and we won by eight points."
Miller was named the coach of the year by the Michigan Coaches Association, the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press.
Miller also recalled two standout Escanaba teams he coached to successful seasons.
"The 1989 Eskymos were exceptional," he said. "They were ranked 14th in the state in Class A which was unheard of for a U.P. team. They went 17-4 with John Barnes and Nick Bink.
I had a great overachieving team in Esky in 1986. They went 16-6 and overachieved in every game. There was Todd Zeise, Paul Rodman, Nick Prica, and Scott Hansen on that team.
And in 2001, I coached a Big Bay de Noc team that was so aggressive. They won 18 games and were quick and played full court defense and harassed people. I like to think we were a team a lot of people didn't like to play against because we were so relentless.
One final thing I'm proud of, is from 1978-2004, I had only three technical fouls. People think I'm a renegade coach, but I always had a good relationship with the officials."
Miller will be inducted into the U.P. Sports Hall of Fame at their annual banquet on April 27, 2013.