Ethel Miles didn't think her son had a chance.
Even though 6-foot-8-inch Darius Miles is considered among the three best players in the nation, mom was convinced that Brett Melton of Mahomet-Seymour would win the Mr. Basketball of Illinois award.
"I told Darius he wouldn't win because Mr. Basketball would be somebody going to Illinois--like Brett--and he had signed with St. John's," Ethel Miles said. "Look at the last three winners. There's Brian Cook, Frank Williams, Sergio McClain--and all of them went to Illinois. If it wasn't Brett, I was sure it would be [Leo's] Andre Brown."
Darius bet his mom $25 that he would break the Illini stranglehold on the state's most prestigious individual award.
Miles and Brown were sitting together in a Boston hotel lobby earlier this week awaiting transportation to the McDonald's All-American Game slam-dunk contest when the East St. Louis senior received the good news.
Miles tilted his head and said: "For real?" When assured he was indeed Cook's successor, he smiled and began good-naturedly teasing Brown.
"My mom owes me $25," he said with a laugh. "I can't wait to tell her."
Miles and Ms. Basketball, Marshall junior Cappie Pondexter, will be honored at the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Dinner on April 29 at Illinois State.
Statewide balloting of coaches and media gave Miles a landslide. He received first-place votes on 217 of 369 ballots, while runner-up Eddy Curry of Thornwood attracted 34 first-place votes. Miles piled up 1,264 points to 366 for Curry.
In his three-year career, Miles led East St. Louis to the Class AA quarterfinals twice. The Flyers were third this season after Miles averaged 22 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocked shots a game while virtually playing all five positions.
A consensus of national talent scouts rated Miles, 6-9 Seton Hall recruit Eddie Griffin of Philadelphia and 6-6 Alabama signee Gerald Wallace of Childersburg, Ala., as the best prospects in the country.
After scoring 17 points and blocking four shots in the McDonald's game, Miles was surrounded by a national media inquiring if he would enter the NBA draft.
"My first priority is St. John's," said Miles, who has signed a letter of intent with coach Mike Jarvis' Big East power. "I need to improve my ACT score by one point to qualify for a scholarship. I am retaking the test in April. The NBA is still out there. If people in the league tell me I'm going to be a lottery pick, I'd probably enter the draft. I'll make a decision at the end of April."
Miles is an only child whose father, Gilbert White, never married Ethel Miles. Darius is a mama's boy raised in a loving but tough environment by his mom, grandma Elouise Miles, 70, and grandpa Willie Miles, 71. Ethel's nephew Adrian, 27, his son Ramonte, 8, and another nephew, Darrell, 13, also are part of the Miles household.
"I'm proud of where I come from, and I represent East St. Louis in everything I do," Miles said. "But it's not pretty where I live. There's a drug house across the street, and you see the crackheads coming and going all night long. You hear the shootings. I worry all the time that somebody is going to break into our house.
"Being the only child, I'm the only chance, the last chance my family has of moving out of East St. Louis. I want them to have all the good things in life that other people enjoy. If I enter the draft it's because all I ever think about is taking care of my family. Isn't that what it's all about?"
Ethel Miles has supported her family by driving a school bus for 15 years and thinks her son is taking on too big a burden.
"I work every day, so why would he say stuff like that," Ethel said. "He shouldn't have to feel that way. He should do what he wants and not enter the NBA just for the money."
New York-based talent scout Tom Konchalski believes entering the draft would be premature for Miles.
"Without a doubt, Darius Miles is the most remarkably gifted player in the class of 2000," Konchalski said. "He has extraterrestrial athletic ability, great quickness, more hops than Heineken, handles the ball like a point guard, can post you up or shoot the three-pointer and is a terrific shot-blocker. What he can't do on the court hasn't been invented.
"But there's a lack of consistent intensity, and that comes from his lack of strength and stamina. He's not ready for the rigors of the NBA. If he goes to college, he'll develop physically with a weight program. The pot of gold should be at the end of the rainbow and not at the beginning."
Despite such an evaluation, Konchalski can see how Miles is tempted to make the jump popularized by Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant.
"I think Darius is better at this stage than Jonathan Bender, and he was picked fifth in the first round last year," Konchalski said. "Darius is a sure first-round pick and has a good chance to be a lottery pick. He is better than all the other recent high school kids who entered the draft except Garnett and Bryant. Still, Darius would be an even better player if he went to college first."
Ron Hecklinski coaches Anderson (Ind.), one of the Hoosier state's top programs, and got a close look at Miles during four days of workouts leading up to the McDonald's game.
"He is tremendously gifted, but doesn't have a good understanding of the intricacies of the game," said Hecklinski, an assistant coach on Miles' West team. "While he was in high school, he wasn't taught the fundamentals. Darius can do whatever he wants in transition, but he wasn't taught how to play in a half-court setting.
"Being around him, you can see he has the desire to learn and improve his all-around game. That's why his upside is so great. It is definitely in Darius' best interests to spend a couple of years with Mike Jarvis and learn the game. One or two years with Jarvis, and Darius could be the top pick of the draft."
Miles began perfecting his ballhandling techniques as a 9-year-old dribbling down Douglas Street on roller skates, going between his legs and behind his back. He would sometimes crouch in front of the TV for three hours dribbling with both hands.
It was then a natural transition for a 6-0 pitcher in 6th grade to begin shooting hoops on his mother's orders.
By the time he entered East St. Louis as a 6-6 sophomore, he was playing for the love of the game.
"In some ways I'm a coach's dream," Miles said without the slightest trace of immodesty. "I am more concerned about playing defense than scoring. I enjoy passing the ball more than shooting. I'd rather block a shot into the fifth row than dunk the ball."
Miles made the ultimate rejection last summer when he found himself one-on-one with Michael Jordan during a scrimmage of counselors at Jordan's summer camp in Santa Barbara, Calif.
"After I blocked his shot that one time, he said: `I'm gonna get your young butt,"' Miles said. "He started shooting so many turnaround jumpers in my face, I couldn't block any of them. Mike told me I need to improve my outside shot and my ballhandling."
That camp experience also cemented a burgeoning friendship with New York's Omar Cook, who is rated among the top point guards in the country. Cook also has signed with St. John's.
"He's ready to play with NBA players, but he has to get stronger," Cook said. "That's the only real question mark. I think it would help him to get at least one year of college experience. I know he doesn't want to go to the NBA and sit on the bench for a year.
"I told him: `Come play with me for a year at St. John's and we'll try to win a national championship. Then you can leave--and be sure and tell your general manager all about me."'Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun