Justin Miller has been on a long journey to find his way to a professional basketball team. It has been about more than the mileage from Owensboro to Lafayette, Louisiana, to Detroit, to Wichita Falls, Texas, where he had been living the last year, and now to Central America.
“I had a lot of nerves playing in that first game down there, a seven-hour flight, five-hour drive,” Miller said recently. “It was 550 days total I’ve been waiting since I had played on a team.”
He has played a handful of games for Brumas de Jinotega in the Nicaragua LSB after joining the team on Aug. 21.
“I always feel confident in my ability to get off to a good start, but my first game started 0-for-4, and that was the first game with running up and down the court in 18 months,” Miller said. “I’d sat out a whole year and a half.”
Miller played his last collegiate season at Detroit Mercy in 2019-20. He was the second-leading scorer on the team at 10.3 points per game and 5.3 rebounds. The previous three seasons, he played at Louisiana Lafayette. In total, he scored 1,200 points at the NCAA Division 1 level.
Miller was a standout basketball player at Owensboro High School in the mid-2010s. The 6-foot-6, 250-pound inside player was a leading force in helping OHS win the 2015 KHSAA state championship.
Miller was named the Most Valuable Player of the State Basketball Tournament.
With the team in Nicaragua, Miller is an inside-outside threat, setting screens and getting offensive chances. He is averaging 14 points, 13 rebounds and a shade under four assists per game. He was tied for second in the league in rebounds per game.
“I try to make good passes out of the post, run a lot of UCLA screens,” Miller said. “I feel like I can do a lot more offensively, but I’m still getting my legs back and conditioning. Ice and recover. It’s a process.”
Trying to get hooked in with a pro team overseas has taken time for Miller. He recently became a client with the Free Agency group, whose director of scouting is former Owensboro High School coach Michael Stinnett.
“What I do is partner with a guy in Spain, David Gonzalez, we find players to sign to a free agency contract, then also find guys we can place overseas,” Stinnett said. “I had a friend, one of our guys, contact me about Justin. Then Justin contacted me, and we got together.
“His coach in Nicaragua is with the national team, and he really liked Justin. For a first-year pro, he’s making pretty good money, he gets housing. I’m excited for him.”
Stinnett is friends with current OHS coach Rod Drake, who was Miller’s coach on the state championship run.
“It was kind of strange, in a good way, to be working with a guy from Owensboro,” Stinnett said. “I knew about what he did in high school, the state championship. Drake said he’d be good to work with.”
Miller seems pleased with where he’s landed.
“It’s a very good first job, it’s a respected league,” Miller said. “Most of the import guys are veteran big men. I’m going against some really good post players. I feel like I’ll get some good film from this.”
After the 2020 season at Detroit Mercy, Miller moved to Texas with his girlfriend, Kylee Trahan, and their daughter, Aliyah, who is 14 months old.
“She’s a teacher,” Miller said of Trahan. “They call me in the morning when they’re waking up to go to school, we talk for 30 minutes every morning.”
Miller, who is 24 now, has his own motivation of wanting to play professional basketball somewhere, but he also has drive from his daughter and his father, who recently passed away from COVID-19.
“I’ve been working my whole life for this year,” Miller said. “This first season is dedicated to my father, Martell Wimsatt.
“He lost his life to COVID last spring, this first year is directly for him. It’s just a lot of motivation, he always told me I was going to do whatever I wanted in life. Him and my daughter, this is their season.”
Miller’s mom, Cindy Miller, still lives in Kentucky.
For a moment, Justin reflected on what he was doing in the summer of 2020.
“This time last year, I was wearing a red vest at Tractor Supply trying to do what I could do to help my daughter and my family,” Miller said. “I started my own basketball skills training academy, mentoring and training about 30 kids in the spring months. That kept me fresh in the game, I kept consistent habits with strength and conditioning, but I wasn’t in a basketball gym.”
“In May, I stopped training kids, and I was focusing on myself again to get my body back right. When I first went to Texas in April 2020, I was just under 290 pounds. Me and my strength coach got me down to 255. With me, it’s always been about my conditioning, not about my skill level.”
Drew Hill from Endunamoo Strength and Conditioning in Wichita Falls was the trainer and person Miller gave the most credit to in getting him back in some kind of playing shape.
“If I could give the most credit to anybody, it would be him,” Miller said. “He’s helped me with my knees and stuff, I’m moving better laterally. He really knows what he’s doing.”
Miller will have a four-month-long season, then he can come back to Texas for a short time, and possibly get with another pro team.
But, this first chance is a special period of time for Miller and his pro basketball dream.