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UMass G Rayshawn Miller eager to make the most of his chance to play

  • Rayshawn Miller, right, moves the ball against Luwane Pipkins during UMass practice, Monday at the Champions Center. GAZETTE STAFF / JERREY ROBERTS



@MattVautourDHG
Thursday, October 12, 2017

AMHERST — Rayshawn Miller didn’t know if he’d ever get this chance, but he’s been preparing for it since he first got a uniform.

The UMass walk-on guard from Boston is going to play this year and not just because of the team’s lack of depth in the backcourt. According to new coach Matt McCall, the 6-foot-1 junior has played well enough to earn regular minutes.

“Ray Miller will be a guy we really, really rely on,” McCall said. “I think Ray is a guy you’re going to see out of the floor an enormous amount for us. He’s reliable. He’s always in the right spots defensively. He’s competitive. He does exactly what you ask him to do. He’s connected with all his teammates. When you put all that together, Ray Miller will be in the lineup and he’ll be in there an enormous amount.”

McCall said from what he’s seen of Miller, he could have started for McCall at his previous school.

“He’s a guy who would start at Chattanooga. He’s a good basketball player,” McCall said. “He’s going to have opportunities to start here. He’s going to have a huge impact on our team.”

Miller was a 1,000-point scorer at Boston Latin Academy and had recruiting interest from Division II and III programs, but he liked UMass’ engineering program and the price tag for an in-state resident. There were no walk-on tryouts during his freshman year, as the Minutemen had a full roster, so he became a student manager for the 2015-16 season.

His brother Stephan Miller told him to pay attention at practices, learn the system, keep his game sharp and be ready.

“Growing up I didn’t have my pops, so my brother was my role model. He was in the similar situation in high school,” Rayshawn Miller said. “He told me you have to be ready when your time comes.”

He spent time between classes in the UMass Rec Center playing pickup or working by himself. Before UMass practice, he and other managers played each other.

When injuries during the season caused then-coach Derek Kellogg to look for reinforcements, Miller was ready. He and fellow manager Chris Lydon were added to the roster in January.

Miller’s feel for the game impressed Kellogg right away. Just two days after getting a uniform, Miller saw action in the last two minutes of the first half in a tight game against Saint Joseph’s with UMass guards in foul trouble. Miller slipped his defender and beat the buzzer with a layup.

His role didn’t increase last year because of UMass’ backcourt logjam with a handful of guards either joining the program or becoming eligible. But he stayed ready.

“Every summer coming into the season, I’ve assumed I’m going to play. That’s been my approach,” he said. “I came into work every day with my hard hat on. I’ve had a chip on my shoulder. I wasn’t even supposed to be here. I got lucky. I’m always grateful for that.”

UMass’ offseason coaching change helped Miller on two levels. First, three guards who played a lot of minutes last year — Donte Clark, DeJon Jarreau and Zach Lewis — left the program. Second, McCall never saw Miller as a manager so there was no subconscious stigma that came with him being a walk-on.

“That helps a lot. It’s good to make your own impression,” Miller said. “With a new coach, everyone starts in the same place.”

Miller has a chance to be the first player since Rigoberto Nunez in 1993 to arrive as a walk-on and emerge as a regular contributor. Miller hoped it would inspire other people to try.

“Especially for the dudes back in Boston, a lot of kids look up to me,” he said. “I’m trying to make a path that wasn’t there before.”

Miller has played so well in the preseason, senior C.J. Anderson forgot he was a walk-on.

“Honestly, that guy there, I thought he was recruited out of high school,” Anderson said. “He competes like he’s on scholarship. I have the utmost respect for that guy. Now he gets a chance to play. I’m happy for him.”

While playing regular minutes is a pinnacle most walk-ons never reach, Miller doesn’t want it to be the zenith of his career.

“I want to win. I’ll do whatever I can to help us win,” Miller said. “I’ve been in here working every day. My opportunity is here, it’s time to show.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage