Ah, yes, remember the more innocent days when Mike Gansey and Kevin Pittsnogle back-cut and 3-point shot their way to the back pages? That was then, and this is now, and now you’ve got a collection of West Virginia players who’ve replaced bashful with brash, precise with punishing. But here’s the crazy thing: Gansey and Pittsnogle and the gang were in the city when they stole the headlines. Daxter Miles — and I’m certain he loves the nickname Mighty Mouth and might get a tattoo — was 450 miles away.
Is that the appeal of this team and this brand?
To me, that’s a question more deserving of my time than the ones I’ve answered and/or seen asked toady. I acknowledge that Miles became I headline. I don’t think he set out to do that. Big, big difference there if you’re one of the people wondering, “What was he thinking?” I get that those are the sort of words that become stories this time of the year and in this kind of a game, but it was an honest, innocent, albeit ill-timed reply that morphed into something much different. It’s like getting a layup blocked from behind. Thought it was going to be easy and never saw the other part coming.
I was shocked that people were shocked by what Miles said, but those are people who haven’t been around Miles all season, who don’t know he’s a 20-year-old freshman from Baltimore — “real Baltimore,” as he puts it — who prepped last season and did not like it. He’s the guy who appointed himself a starter this season because when WVU started practicing in the fall, Bob Huggins asked for five starters on the floor and Miles took the floor. He wasn’t going to wait for his spot. He was going to take it. In a way, this is that. In a way, this is Miles.
You had a bunch of reporters — I can’t put big enough quotes around that, so just imagine me with Mickey Mouse hands making air quotes … because, sheesh, if you saw the way the response-seeking was conducted, you’d cringe — who seemed offended by what Miles said and were racing to get to the Kentucky locker room. And here’s the best part: The Wildcats didn’t much care. They shrugged or chuckled and a few said, “Well, yeah, of course they want to win.” They’ve heard this all season … I guess, because, you know, I haven’t covered them all year. I won’t project on them. But I don’t believe bravado or gamesmanship is new to a 36-0 team. And if they’re rattled by what Miles said, Miles wins. He does, even if he wasn’t trying to win.
I’m not protecting Miles, either. He might have taken a bite when he needed to keep his lips tight. He might be undone by the reaction. But he might be inspired by that reaction. He might have rallied his teammates. And let’s not forget this might not matter to the Mountaineers at all. We’ll see. It’s silly to bury him because he dared to say he thought his team was going to win the game. They all think they’re going to win, and they aren’t into kissing the ring, which is normal as opposed to laudatory. He put his own words on it to make it look so good in print, but Miles has a wonderful habit of that, and I fear this episode may rob us of that.
And let’s be careful about calling it a guarantee, too. In a matter of words, he did guarantee it, because he said Kentucky’s leaving here 36-1 tonight, but he never used The G Word. He’s not Namath or Messier (or Pittsnogle!) and I think it’s important to designate that he never intended to be, either.
Disregarding the outcome on the scoreboard, the worst outcome tonight would be Miles scoring eight or nine points and playing 18 or 20 minutes — which is to say, Miles plays what amounts to an ordinary game — and people see it and say he was made to pay for what he said. Though I’m certain the Wildcats may play a little harder around Miles early on, there’s no chance Miles is the central figure in Kentucky’s scouting report or game plan.
As for my central figures, that’s be you. Early deadline again, head down, writing again.