She was the kind of basketball player that coaches and scouts might call “a project.” She had some size but she was a little awkward on the court, a little uncertain, not very assertive. Though she made the team in seventh grade, she didn’t play very much until ninth grade.
“When she was in seventh or eighth grade, she used to go to Bishop Park and people would see her working out by herself,” recalled Bryant Lady Hornets basketball coach Brad Matthews.
Still, little did anyone know that one day — Thursday, April 14, 2016 to be exact — Rachael Miller would be signing a letter of intent to continue her basketball career and education under scholarship in college. But that, indeed, is where she arrived. Flanked by her parents Ronald and Melinda Miller, she signed with Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia.
“If somebody saw her in eighth or ninth grade, they would not have thought this day was in her future,” acknowledged Matthews. “It’s a tribute to her. She worked hard in our practices but outside our practices she worked as hard as any kid I’ve coached. It was all self-driven. Nobody had to tell her to be in the gym. Nobody had to make her be in the gym.”
“The work she’s done and how she’s worked the last two years speaks very loudly about the person she is,” he continued. “Tremendous work ethic, always wanting to do what we needed her to do. Because of that, sometimes her stats may have been sacrificed but the things she helped us accomplish over the last couple of years speaks to the high, high character that Rachael Miller has.
“I’m proud of her for that,” the coach stated.
“I love basketball,” Miller emphasized. “I love the competitiveness of the sport. I loved playing for Coach Matthews and I gradually got better as the years went by. I put in my time and it got me to this point.”
She wound up contributing to Lady Hornets’ teams that won games in the Class 7A State Tournament in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the heyday of the program in the 1980’s and ‘90’s.
As a senior, Miller averaged 7.8 points per game and 5.2 rebounds per game, leading the team with the latter figure. She shot 71 percent at the free-throw line and began to be effective stepping out to the 3-point line to do damage from time to time.
All of that despite missing several games early in the season due to illness.
“This year was a good season for me,” she acknowledged. “I got more points. I had way more rebounds. I think I had a career high in rebounding.”
“(The illness) kind of stunted her growth a little bit because that early season is when you have some time to make some mistakes and learn,” Matthews mentioned. “She would’ve been further along in January and February if she hadn’t missed.”
As it was, however, she played a key role for the Lady Hornets, putting together a big game against the rival Benton Lady Panthers and, later, helping her team win over Bentonville at State.
“I think you saw her confidence begin to grow and her toughness grew,” Matthews said. “As the season went on, she got a little bit more comfortable. She hit some big buckets against Bentonville in the State Tournament, kind of kept them out of reach going down to the end.
“What people didn’t see was the countless hours that Rachael has been in the gym, building 4, Monday nights, Tuesday nights, Thursdays, Saturday afternoons, Sunday afternoons, working to get better.”
“I had a couple more offers,” Miller related. “CBC (Central Baptist College in Conway) was really interested in me but I really liked SAU the most.
“I really liked their basketball program,” she added. “They had a really good season. And I liked the coaches. They talked about the program and how it was going to be and how I would be a part of the team and put in my work for them. They have my degree program, which is Wildlife Biology, so that’s why I chose SAU.
“They said that I’d be able to play some (as a freshman), that I’d fit in really well with the team.”
“I’d like to thank my parents for always being there for me, pushing me, taking me to my practices and my workouts, and supporting all my athletics,” Miller said. “I’d like to thank my teammates for always being there and having my back. I’d like to thank Coach Matthews for pushing me and letting me in the gym to work out and for getting me to college. I’d like to thank anyone that has helped me get this far, to make my dream a reality, to play college ball.”
Concluded Matthews, “Rachael wanted, two or three years ago, to be a good player and, to her credit, she has made herself a college player. And there’s such a small percentage of kids, boys and girls, who get that opportunity. Rachael has made herself that. Again that speaks to the high quality of a kid she is; great student, great family, great person.
“Southern Arkansas is getting a high-quality person, a high-quality player,” he stated. “She’s just going to continue to get better as she gains confidence and comfort with how good she can be. I could not be more proud to have Rachael going forward representing our program.”