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Mayo grad Miller talks, plays a good game

Rochester Mayo graduate Anna Miller has been a sweet fit as a freshman basketball player at Drake University.

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Drake University's Anna Miller, a Rochester Mayo graduate, is having a big impact on the Bulldogs as a freshman.
Contributed / Drake University Athletics

Anna Miller likes to talk, be it asking questions, stating her opinions or just holding gentle conversations.

Drake University women’s basketball coach Allison Pohlman got her first long look at this this past summer. Miller, a former Rochester Mayo basketball star and now a freshman center at Division I Drake in Des Moines, Iowa, was working a basketball camp along with teammates and Pohlman.

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The camp was over for the day, but there was Miller, sitting off to the side with one of the grade-school campers, having a long conversation as the girl waited for her mother to show up. Pohlman practically had to pull Miller away from the youngster, letting the 6-foot-3 freshman center know that it was time to get her weight-lifting session in.

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Anna Miller

It was typical Miller and also one of the rare times that Pohlman has felt the need to put the kibosh on her outgoing and interested-in-everything-and-everybody center.

“Anna is delightful,” Pohlman said. “She is very caring and adds so much to our culture at Drake. And she never stops talking. She loves conversations, be they about politics or whatever. She is also extremely bright.”

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Pohlman went on to elevate that adjective from “bright” to “brilliant.” Miller is a pre-medicine student with plans to become a doctor.

“Bright” — and who knows, maybe “brilliant” — also describe Miller’s future, not just in the working world but on the basketball court.

Miller is averaging 9 points, 6 rebounds per game and has a team-high 17 blocks all off the bench for 9-6 Drake. That record includes a decisive 77-63 home victory against Minnesota on Dec. 23. It also included consecutive losses on Friday and Sunday as the Bulldogs have been ravaged recently by COVID-19.

The Mayo graduate isn’t a college star yet. But she might be headed there.

“Anna has picked up things beautifully,” said Pohlman, who took over as head coach this past summer after Jennie Baranczyk jumped to become the University of Oklahoma’s head coach. “She has so much potential and is just now tapping into it. Her learning curve has been amazing. She picks up things quickly. Now it’s just about her finding confidence in everything she does (on the basketball court).”

Miller will never be compared to another college center with southeastern Minnesota roots, Ayoka Lee. The 6-foot-5 Lee, a Byron graduate who has torn things up the last three years at Kansas State, combines height with some power. Miller isn’t like that. She’s long and lean, and the strength she has is of the sinewy variety.

The right stuff

But what the 6-foot-3 Miller has in abundance is quickness and speed, as well as length, with arms stretching enough to make her seem 6-5.

Miller’s skill set has worked nicely at Drake, which plays a decidedly uptempo style. The Bulldogs don’t really make a true center out of anyone on offense, instead all five of its players constantly weaving and cutting through the lane. Their style also leads to plenty of transition baskets.

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All of it suits Miller well.

“This offense allows all of us to play to our strengths,” Miller said. “You read things based on what the defense is doing. My speed helps, because a big part of our offense is (scoring) in transition.”

Miller quickly found out that her speed wasn’t only convenient, but crucial. The college game blew her away at first with how quickly players were moving around.

“We are sprinting all the time,” she said. “When you’re watching on television, it doesn’t look that different than high school. But when you’re actually on the floor, you see that it’s a lot different. You have to be on top of your game all the time. You can’t take any breaks.”

Miller isn’t much into breaks, on or off the court. She’s the team’s top student and has had a keen appreciation for how academics are handled at Drake.

At a school with an enrollment of just 5,000, she’s getting what she’d hoped to get out of the classroom.

“The school does a great job of involving their students with their personal educators,” Miller said. “The professors push us to come to visit them during office hours. They want to help students be their best.”

Miller is finding the same is true of this women’s basketball program. She says everyone on her team is on the same page, driven to compete and be their best.

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