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Capital Classic men: Miles finds other ways to contribute for WVU

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Keaton Miles was no different than many freshmen when he arrived at West Virginia University last summer. He had his mind set on stats, though one spoke to him louder than all others.

"All I was thinking about was trying to get wins," he said.

When the team went overseas and played summer games in Italy, Miles thought he had found the way.

"What I saw there, and what I had even thought before, was they had trouble scoring last year and I thought I was going to contribute like that," he said. "As far as right now, my offensive game hasn't been what I thought it was going to be."

That's one way to put it. Here's another: Miles is being celebrated for a career-high point total Saturday against Rutgers - six points.

Yet it was, without question, his best game for the Mountaineers (13-5), who play Marshall (13-4) at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Capital Classic at the Charleston Civic Center. He was 3-for-4 after going 2-for-6 in the first five Big East games.

"He shoots it fine in practice," Coach Bob Huggins said. "He honestly does."

Miles just hadn't shot well, or often, in games. He was 8-for-30 in the first 17 games and 0-for-6 from 3-point range. He missed many shots badly and sometimes missed the rim.

Worse yet, Huggins believed Miles was taking shots early in possessions when they knew the defense would allow those same openings later in the shot clock.

So over time, the 6-foot-6 Miles stopped shooting. He took one shot in his first Big East game against Villanova. He took none Jan. 4 against Rutgers and none five days later against UConn.

But by doing away with some things on offense, he was putting his focus elsewhere. He was embracing the Huggins philosophy and merely doing what he knew he could do - guard, move, run and rebound.

"I knew it would be challenging and it's about gaining confidence and getting that swagger about yourself," Miles said. "You find out who you are and what you can do to contribute."

Miles didn't lose his starting spot and his coaches didn't waver because they saw Miles in the gym during whatever free time he could find. They knew he cared, that he was working to find his offense, even if he had helped it disappear. He wasn't forcing things, wasn't taking bad shots, wasn't turning the ball over - an overlooked skill and something he's done only eight times in 17 games.

"That's what he needs to do right now - just rebound and guard and don't worry about other things," Huggins said. "If he does that, he'll be able to stay on the floor."

In the second bout with the Scarlet Knights, he finished with four rebounds, one off his career high, and played a season-high 29 minutes. Miles made the most of it, adding seven assists - five fewer than he had all season.

Feeling good about everything, Miles had an open shot early and made it. A few minutes later, he had a second open look and a second basket. His third was a tip-in when he hung around the basket and timed a jump for his sixth point.

"It was just about going back to the basics and focusing on what I have to do and then using that to get comfortable with some of the other things on offense," Miles said.

This is a deviation from who Miles was in high school and who so many people thought he would be for the Mountaineers. He was an all-state player at Lincoln High School in Dallas and a popular attraction for the Dallas Mustangs AAU team. Miles averaged 18 points and 13 rebounds as a senior at Lincoln.

"I was a slasher, I could defend, rebound, shoot mid-range, 17 feet, and I can shoot 3s," he said. "That was my game."

In college, he became a kid trying to build on five points against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Tennessee Tech.

"A lot of people thought John Flowers couldn't play and John ended up being a pretty good player," Huggins said. "Keaton has length. Keaton has athleticism. Think of how poorly John Flowers shot the ball as a freshman. I think Keaton has a lot of John's traits and he's going to put the time in."

Flowers left WVU last season an inch taller and 10 pounds heaver than Miles is today. When Flowers was a freshman, he averaged 4.6 points and 2.5 rebounds and started only three times. And he had a terrible time shooting, making 43 percent of his shots, 29 percent of his 3-point attempts and 38 percent of his free throws.

Yet he, like Miles, got to practice early and stayed late and sneaked in a hundred or so jumpers when he had the time. Flowers ended up being more than reliable at the free-throw and 3-point lines and one of the Big East's premier defenders. He realized his job alongside Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant was not to come to the arena trying to score 20 points every night, but to help his team win.

Miles already grasps that and can go from there.

"I think he can be a lot like John Flowers," Huggins said. "John wasn't as big and strong as he ended up being when he first got here. Keaton is going to get bigger and stronger and he may grow some more - he comes from a family of big people. I think he's better now than he was not long ago."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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