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Coco Miller still living her dream

MINNEAPOLIS — Coco Miller spent much more time watching basketball than playing in the first game of the WNBA Finals Sunday night at Target Center.

But the 33-year-old Rochester native and Atlanta Dream backup guard wasn’t complaining. Eleven seasons in the WNBA have given Miller perspective, and a keen appreciation of how lucky she is to still be living out her childhood dream.

Miller scored two points in just seven minutes of playing time off the bench, and her Dream went down 88-74 to the favored Minnesota Lynx in Game One of the best-of-five championship series.

It’s the same limited playing time that Miller has experienced throughout Atlanta’s playoff run, and the type of bit role that might have aggravated the ultra-competitive player earlier in her pro career.

"That’s definitely something that would have bothered me right out of college, because I was used to playing all the time," said Miller, who began her long basketball journey at Mayo High School in the mid 1990’s with her equally gifted twin sister Kelly.

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The Miller twins led Mayo to large-school Minnesota state championships in 1995 and 1997, and then they took their game to the next level at the University of Georgia. They were both first-round picks in the 2001 WNBA draft, and now they are both among the most veteran players in the 15-year-old league.

"I think it comes with maturity and realizing that your role changes as you get older," she said. "I’m fortunate to still be playing in this league, and I know that.

"It has gone by really fast; it doesn’t seem like too long ago it was my firs year."

Miller has been coming off the bench for the second half of her career, which spans eight seasons with the Washington Mystics and the last three seasons with Atlanta, and it’s a role she has come to embrace.

The muscular 5-foot-9 and 140-pound guard had one of her best regular seasons, averaging 7.3 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 17 minutes. But her playing time and stats diminished as the third-seeded Dream made a surprising run through the Eastern Conference playoffs and into the finals for a second straight year.

"If we’re playing well things don’t change a lot, and fortunately we’ve been playing well," Miller said. "I try to come off the bench with a lot of energy and intensity. If I play two minutes or 20 minutes I’m going to make the most of it."

Twin sisters still tight

Miller had her own small cheering section in an arena otherwise filled with over 15,000 Lynx fans, her sister Kelly and their parents Marv and Kathy Miller.

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Kathy and Marv are both retired teachers who still live in the same northeast Rochester home where they raised their family. Kelly just finished another solid pro season, her first with the Mystics, averaging 7.3 points, 2.8 assists and 2.3 rebounds as a starter.

Absent from the Miller’s family rooting section were the twins’ three older siblings, Kathy who lives in Chicago, brother Kerry who lives in Houston, and Sheila who lives in Phoenix, where the twins also call home now.

Coco and Kelly enjoyed being teammates in the WNBA for the first time last season with Atlanta, when the Dream lost in the finals to Seattle. But Kelly was traded to Washington in a draft day transaction in April.

"It was pretty shocking; it was a last-minute deal," Coco said. "We were both kind of heartbroken. We had gotten used to playing without each other, but it’s always better when we’re together."

The Miller twins will get that chance again in the months ahead, when they go overseas to play for the same team in the Turkish pro league. Their basketball careers have taken them to Russia, China, Korea and throughout most of Europe over the last decade.

Not done playing yet

Coco and Kelly are now starting their own business as professional athletic trainers in Phoenix. They have begun working with athletes of all ages, concentrating on speed, agility and quickness training.

"We’ve been doing a lot of work to get that off the ground," Kelly said. "Right now we’re working with athletes at various sites, but the goal is to one day have our own building where people can come to train."

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While the Miller’s are beginning to plan for a life beyond basketball, Coco said she is not ready to leave the game yet. She is still quite motivated to play, and to win.

"This is my second (WNBA) finals but I haven’t gotten a (championship) ring yet; Kelly got one with Phoenix (in 2007), so I’d like to match her," she said.

"I love playing the game so much, the passion is definitely still there. I haven’t really set a time frame; as long as I’m healthy I’m going to keep playing."

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