Throughout the 2014-15 season, Colorado freshmen forward Tory Miller and guard Dominique Collier have had their ups and downs learning a more advanced style of play. Now, midway through the season, we caught up with them as they reflected on their journey up to this point, and what they wish they could change.
From the start of his young career, Collier noticed some stark differences between high school and college ball.
“It’s a must faster speed in the game and that every little thing counts on offense and on defense,” Collier said. “The main thing I really noticed was just the speed and how everyone plays at a fluid speed the whole game.”
Collier’s season got off to a bit of a rocky start after he missed out on the first few games to serve a suspension after violating team rules. Sitting on the sidelines certainly didn’t help him transition early on.
“It was hard, and I missed a couple scrimmages, too, so that chemistry wasn’t there between me and the rest of the guys,” Collier said. “It was pretty difficult then, and then we got the hang of it and I think we transitioned well.”
He made his collegiate debut in Laramie when the Buffs took on the Wyoming Cowboys, during which he shot 100 percent for the first twenty minutes of his career after going 2-2 from the three-point range.
He attributed the immediate success to his excitement leading up to the game.
“I had so much adrenaline because I had missed the first two games, so I was just so pumped to play the next game,” Collier said.
His early success, however, was challenged by an injury he sustained during Colorado’s game at Georgia after taking a charge. While trying to break the fall, he said he fell a little too hard onto his left hand and sprained a couple of ligaments in his wrist.
The injury prompted him to miss the next two home matchups against Colorado State and Northern Colorado before he was able to return to the court in the Diamond Head Classic Tournament in Hawaii. Since then, he’s learned a thing or two from his teammates to help make his adjustment a little easier.
“The coaches and the players just keep encouraging me to keep playing and keep my head up and play with confidence,” he said. “I’ve learned to play at a high speed every time and just go out there and play my game, not just play tentative.”
Although he tries to keep up with everything his older teammates teach him, he runs to one player in particular whenever he needs advice.
“I look up to everybody on the team just because they’re all great leaders, but one person I go to to ask questions or whatever is probably Askia (Booker),” Collier said. “He’s the only senior on the team and he’s been here for four years, so he saw everything. He was on the team that won the Pac-12 tournament, so he knows what it takes to win at a high level, so I ask him for advice.”
Now that the season is about three-quarters of the way over, Collier reflected on his strengths and weaknesses thus far. While he said he believes defense marks the most-improved part of his game, he felt his confidence needs a little work.
“[I can fix that by] just going out there and playing free, and just believing in myself,” Collier said. “That’s the main point, just believing in myself and believing I can play with these guys.”
In Saturday’s home loss against Utah, Collier completed the best performance of his young career after finishing with 11 points and four rebounds.
Miller, on the other hand, has had a fairly smooth-sailing career up to this point. Unlike Collier, Miller’s year has not been plagued by injuries or suspensions, but filled with unexpected opportunities.
After spending a year between high school and college at New Hampton Preparatory School, Miller’s transition to this level of the game was a bit easier.
“Going to New Hampton, it’s not really a transition for speed-wise and strength-wise,” Miller said. “It’s more or less mental work. The mentality of some of the people that you play, even some of the people on your team, it’s like a whole new level. The way they think as far as scoring, rebounding and the game in general.”
When it comes to the mental aspect, he looks to his coaches for advice.
“I think talking to the coaches, you have to look at mentality perspective-wise,” Miller said. “With Kyle MacIntosh just passing away, coach has been talking about that a lot. It could always be worse, it could always be better. You just have to be prepared for anything at this point. We’re just trying to get through the season and get some wins under our belt.”
When he needs more personalized advice about what to expect during his career, he turns to a few of the older players for guidance.
“Either J 40 (Josh Scott) or Uncle Wes (Gordon) down there,” Miller said. “He’s always got a positive outlook. I’ve only seen Wes mad once, and I don’t even think it had to do with basketball. I think it had to do with McDonald’s or something like that. If I look at him and I see him smiling all the time, then I can do the same thing.”
Throughout much of the first half of the season, Miller’s offensive game was focused around points in the paint and flashy dunks. But, more recently, head coach Tad Boyle has been pushing him to use a move that he’s kept under wraps since arriving at CU—the mid-range jumper.
Unlike Collier, Miller has never had a problem with confidence. He said he believed the strongest aspect of his game is his defense, and that the team as a whole has improved significantly in this facet of the competition.
But, as with every player at any level, he still has room for improvement.
“Everything, oh my God, everything,” Miller said. “From ball-handling to post movement, I always need to be on my game. As for teamwork, I think defensively, I need to get stronger mentally, get stronger physically and never stop what I need to work on.”
Recently, Miller had a highlight performance in Colorado’s home win against Washington State when he recorded his first career double-double, with 11 points and 13 rebounds.
Miller and Collier, along with the rest of the Buffalo herd, return to the court on Thursday, Feb 12 as they take on the California Golden Bears at 7 p.m.
Contact CU Independent Basketball Writer Alissa Noe at email@example.com.