The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday May 26th

For freshman hitter, a journey worth the wait

Brian Miller is right where he dreamt he’d be — after a long road.

<p>Brian Miller awaits a pitch against Virginia. He finished the regular season with a .298 batting average.</p>
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Brian Miller awaits a pitch against Virginia. He finished the regular season with a .298 batting average.

He was pinch-hitting for fellow freshman Logan Warmoth in the top of the ninth versus No. 4 UCLA in Orlando, Fla.

Staring from the pitcher’s mound was David Berg, a senior right-handed closer who had previously captured first-team All-America honors.

Miller dug into his stance and prepared for the first pitch — ball, outside.

The next pitch didn’t reach the catcher’s mitt. Instead, it was slapped up the middle for a single. In only his second at-bat for UNC, Miller captured his first hit — and it came against the man who owns the NCAA record for most saves in a season.

Miller’s career had its beginning, but the path toward that beginning wasn’t a straight line.

At this time last year, Miller had no plans to play for UNC — a school he idolized as a child.

But like a baseball hurled toward home plate at 90 miles per hour, life can come at you pretty fast.

Loving light blue

In elementary school, middle school and high school, Miller identified himself as a Tar Heel.

Miller grew up in Raleigh, just 30 minutes away from UNC’s campus. His bed is covered by a UNC comforter, pillow and sheets. Right above the bed is a mural of Dean Smith and former players.

His older brother, Richard Miller, is a redshirt sophomore at UNC and runs track. But Brian’s passion for the Tar Heels was always unmatched.

“When we were younger in middle school and high school, birthdays and Christmas gifts were never difficult,” Richard said. “Me and my dad would just drive to the local sports shop and pick out anything UNC, and that’s all it took.”

Not to be forgotten are the UNC baseball posters also plastered across Miller’s bedroom. He began playing the sport at age four and eventually played for Millbrook High School.

But in his bio on UNC’s athletic website, there are no descriptions of how well he ranked as a baseball recruit. He played with American Legion Baseball and played in the Central Carolina Scholastic Summer League to keep in baseball shape, but most of his summer workouts were dedicated to football.

And Miller didn’t reach Millbrook’s varsity baseball team until his junior year.

During that junior season, he started at shortstop every game, batted .308 and made the 2013 CAP-8 All-Conference Team. But Division I scouts weren’t stalking him, and highly touted coaches weren’t stuffing his mailbox.

However, Miller’s talents weren’t totally unnoticed.

He was getting recruited by a UNC — it just wasn’t the one in Chapel Hill. And at the beginning of his senior year, Miller signed with UNC-Asheville.

“It was a program that I was hoping to come in and get some early playing time,” he said.

But later in the fall, Miller received word that Tom Smith, Asheville’s coach, was retiring. Miller had grown two inches in between his junior and senior seasons and was noticeably stronger. He and his dad, Rick Miller, discussed getting in touch with other schools. But time passed, and the baseball season inched closer.

Miller was sticking with UNC-Asheville, but Chapel Hill still weighed in the back of his mind. Knowing he had UNC-Asheville as a fail-safe, Miller applied to UNC-Chapel Hill through early decision.

Miller played baseball and captained his football team. He was a leader in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a lifeguard at the YMCA and his GPA was above 4.5.

Despite the accolades, UNC wasn’t recruiting Miller academically either. Instead, he was deferred from his dream school in January.

“When I didn’t get in, I was surprised,” Miller said. “A lot of people I knew that got in — I had better extracurriculars and a better GPA than a lot of them. I kind of had a little UNC hate week afterward.”

Attending UNC now appeared to be a pipe dream.

But when Miller began his senior year of baseball, circumstances began to shift — very quickly.

Carolina whirlwind

In his senior year, Miller batted over .400 in the regular season and led his team to the 4-A state semifinals. He batted above .600 during the playoffs and earned All-State honors.

By the end of his high school baseball career, Miller was the all-time leader in hits at Millbrook.

Rumors of schools being interested began to fly almost as fast as Miller ran the bases. Included among those rumors was UNC-Chapel Hill.

“We lost some guys to the draft, so we were kind of keeping our eyes and ears open for a left-handed hitter and Coach (Scott) Jackson got a tip from a guy that he knows that runs a recruiting service,” Coach Scott Forbes said.

And in early June, UNC-Asheville’s assistant coach called Miller and his family, saying they had heard from UNC. They had given the Tar Heel coaches permission to contact Miller.

A few days later, Forbes called Miller and arranged for him to participate in a work out at Heritage High School in Wake Forest.

“I was very impressed with the way he ran,” Forbes said, recalling Miller’s work out. “But the two things that stuck out the most to me when I saw him were I liked his swing, and I thought he was very athletic down the line.”

The very next day, Miller was walking into North Carolina’s baseball office and meeting the rest of the coaches. They offered him a spot on the team, and just like that, he was a UNC student-athlete. He moved into Avery Residence Hall and was quickly enrolled in classes.

“It’s amazing the amount of red tape we bypassed to get Brian admitted in one day, get a room in one day, a roommate in one day and then classes registered for,” Rick Miller said. “The coaches really put forth a tremendous effort to get all of this done and to get Brian on the team.”

Living the dream

In his first at-bat as a Tar Heel, Miller struck out looking against Seton Hall.

But in the following weekend series versus UCLA, there were no strike outs. Miller went 4-4 including 2 RBI, a double and two hits off Berg, the All-American closer.

Miller finished the regular season with a .298 batting average, the highest on the team. He also stole 10 bases.

Senior pitcher Benton Moss, who has served as a mentor for Miller, said he believes the freshman is just scratching the surface of his potential.

“He’s got a ton of speed on the bases and can hit for average,” he said. “I think if he can put on some additional weight and continue to gain strength he will take his game to a higher level than it already is.”

Before the whirlwind began in June, Miller felt his best shot was to be accepted into UNC academically and try out for the team or play club baseball. Then in the fall semester, he was focused on just making the travel roster.

Now, Miller has goals of becoming an everyday starter and even an All-ACC performer. And he will be chasing those dreams for the school he holds so dearly.

“God’s plan is so much greater than my plan,” he said.

“I get to live out my dream every day, and I try my best to realize how thankful I am to be here.”

sports@dailytarheel.com



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