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Milford Mill grad Isaiah Miles enjoying breakout season at St. Joe's, set for his NCAA tourney debut

Saint Joseph forward Isaiah Miles (15) goes to the basket against Dayton guard Darrell Davis (1) during the first half of the an NCAA college basketball game during the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 men's tournament, Saturday, March 12, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Saint Joseph forward Isaiah Miles (15) goes to the basket against Dayton guard Darrell Davis (1) during the first half of the an NCAA college basketball game during the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 men's tournament, Saturday, March 12, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) (Mary Altaffer / AP)

SPOKANE, WASH. — Isaiah Miles knew that time was running out on his college career.

It had been three years since Miles left Milford Mill for St. Joseph's University, the first two with very little playing time and a junior season that saw the 6-foot-7 forward lead the country in one dubious category.

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Miles fouled out 10 times for the 13-18 Hawks and committed the most fouls (134) of any Division I player.

"My teammates were making fun of me and Coach [Phil] Martelli pulled me in and said, 'Seriously, you have to cut back on that in order for us to win games,'" Miles recalled Thursday.

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Miles has improved in nearly every category as a senior, raising a 10.7 per-game scoring average to a team-leading 18.4 to go along with a team-high 8.1 rebounds.

He is also shooting a career-high 52.8 percent from the field, 38.8 percent on 3-pointers and 88.3 on free throws, 14th in the country.

His play has helped the Hawks improve to 27-7. They will play Cincinnati on Friday at the Spokane Arena in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It marks the second NCAA appearance for Miles, though he didn't play in the 89-81 overtime loss to Connecticut in 2014.

"Two years ago I was part of the team, but I didn't leave my mark," said Miles, who averaged three points per game in a little over nine minutes as a sophomore. "I can look back and say I've definitely contributed a lot more this year than I did two years ago."

Martelli noticed the change in Miles last spring.

"What I saw early on was a guy that can make shots, but I also saw a guy that was really comfortable of being on the edges," Martelli said Thursday. "Not that he did anything wrong, but he didn't want my eye on him whether it was academic or social or basketball

"As he moved around, he was always trying to dodge the light and when we started last spring, there was something different. He wanted to take everything in, he wanted to hear everything you had to say. He wanted to be good, then he wanted to be respected, now he's driven to be great."

Miles also dropped 20 pounds after changing his diet, eliminating one fast-food item in particular.

"I gave up Baconators at Wendy's," Miles said of the double bacon cheeseburgers that he once devoured as part of the school's meal plan.

DeAndre Bembry said Miles was one of the leaders in summer conditioning drills, whether it was out on the track or inside the gym on the track. While all the players "put in the work," Miles "is one of the main reasons we're better," Bembry said.

"The first two years he didn't play that much. Then last year a lot was thrown on him, as it was on me," Bembry said. "We had to lead the team in scoring, rebounding. Definitely his confidence, every shot he takes he feels like it's going in."

Miles doesn't like to think that he is the key to the team's turnaround season, though most of Martelli's rotation players remain the same as last season.

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"It's a team effort at the end of the day, but as far my individual play, I've just contributed to the team playing better," he said. "My confidence has gone up tremendously. Last year I was inconsistent, I would get 20 points one game and two points the next game."

Miles said that his lackadaisical attitude his first three years goes back to his high school years, the first three at Glenelg Country School in Howard County and his senior year at Milford Mill.

"Back in high school, I was four or five inches taller than everybody. I relied mainly on my talent," Miles said. "My mom and dad taught me, talent got me this far, now it's time to work.

"I was definitely naive my freshman, sophomore year. I was good in high school, so I was definitely going to be good here. It hit me hard, there were guys just as good as me, even better."

Along with his attitude and his eating habits, Miles said that he also changed his game.

"I've been playing more aggressive," Miles said. "Last year I was a spot-up shooter, I'd sit in the corner waiting for the ball to be passed to me and shoot whenever I could. I'm attacking the basket more, I'm rebounding a hell of a lot better than I did last year."

Though many thought he might transfer to a mid-major after his first two lackluster seasons, Miles stuck it out at St. Joseph's.

"It showed my character that I stayed with the team," he said, "and I came out of it for the better."

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