Miller will broadcast his first-ever college game Sunday on CBS when Tennessee hosts Kentucky in the regular season finale for both teams. That game will serve as a dress rehearsal for the first weekend of the NCAA tournament when Miller teams with veteran play-by-play man Kevin Harlan before joining the TNT studio crew for the following two weeks of games.
One of the major questions about the new partnership between CBS and Turner Sports is how TNT's NBA-centric analysts will fare calling college games, but Miller insists he's looking forward to the challenge. He displayed trademark enthusiasm and charisma during our conversation below but struggled with certain details, wondering aloud whether UCLA will make the tournament and calling the Tennessee game "a must-win" for Kentucky.
JE: You've obviously spent a lot of time in the NBA as a player and an analyst. Will it be a nice change of pace to call some college basketball this March?
RM: I was talking to Steve Kerr about this. The opportunity to call some college games, it's going to take us back to our collegiate days, the excitement that every game brought every time you stepped on the floor. It was almost like a Super Bowl because of the fan participation and the atmosphere. Does it increase the workload? Absolutely. Do you have to prepare and read more? Sure. But to me it gives us all a chance to go back in time.
JE: How difficult will the learning curve be going from being an NBA analyst to doing the college game?
RM: The volume of players, coaches and teams is the biggest difference. I mean, look, you know all 30 teams in the NBA and out of those 30 teams, you can probably name 10 guys on each roster. Obviously that's a little different when you're dealing with so many college teams, but that's the challenging part of it. Having a chance to work with Kevin Harlan, who I think is in his 15th or 16th year doing this, I think my transition will be smooth.
JE: Have you watched more college basketball this season than in years past?
RM: I always watch a lot because you want to see who the next up-and-coming stars are going to be. I'm probably watching a little more knowing I'm going to be calling games, but not too much more than I normally would.
JE: Give me your Final Four picks as we head into March?
RM: It's funny because it has changed over the past two weeks. If you asked me this question two weeks ago, I'd have gone with Ohio State, Kansas, Texas and probably Pittsburgh. But if you're asking me today, I love Purdue even without the Hummel kid because of E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson. That's a team that's scary, that's getting hot at the right time. So if I had to pick my Final Four today, I'd go Ohio State, Pitt, probably Purdue ... and wow, I want to say Notre Dame.
JE: Really, Notre Dame?
RM: They are playing so well at the right time.
JE: Your alma mater, UCLA, had a rough year last season, but the Bruins have played well the past couple months. Are you surprised at all by the turnaround?
RM: How about that, right? I give coach [Ben] Howland all the credit in the world. There were some dark days last year and you thought it was going to be the same year this year when you look at the young collection of talent they had. The talent's there, but again I stress young. For them to play this well and be tied with Arizona for the Pac-10 lead, it says a lot about coach Howland and how he's preparing the team.
JE: One UCLA player who I'm guessing your familiar with is Malcolm Lee, who's from your hometown of Riverside. Have you spent much time with him and what are your impressions of him as a player?
RM: I haven't met him, but I've watched his game. There were so many question marks about his game. Is he a defensive player? Is he a scorer? And the one thing Ben Howland has always done is defined roles and I think Malcolm has accepted his role. I haven't had a chance to speak to him, but I love the way he brings the intensity and gets everyone involved. I think they should make the tournament regardless of what their outcome is in the conference tournament. I'm hoping. You never know though.
JE: The first college game you'll call will be Tennessee-Kentucky this weekend in Knoxville. How do you explain Kentucky's road woes in SEC play this season?
RM: We were talking about UCLA and how young they are. Well, same thing with Cal [coach John Calipari] and his team. With all those freshmen, it's a great learning experience. They're great at home, but on the road in the SEC, you look at some of the teams and it's tough to get a victory. I hate to call Kentucky a bubble team because I still think they'll get in, but this is a must-win for them at Tennessee.
JE: I'm sure you've had a chance to see Jimmer Fredette play this season. How do you think his game will translate to the NBA?
RM: Great poise. Love his handle. Love how he sees the floor. Obviously his crossover is sick and that definitely can translate to the next level. My only question is going to be his size. He's listed at 6-2, but we all know people lie. He's probably 6 feet, 6-1. Look at the point guards he's going to go against. Rondo, Jason Kidd, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook. All these guys are 6-4, 6-5. Now if you can throw him at shooting guard like J.J. Redick, then possibly. But his size is going to be a factor.
- Reggie Miller