WINNIPEG, MB. - Antoinette Miller is beginning her third season of Canadian university basketball and she’ll admit she’s still not accustomed to the cold.
“I’m just never prepared for Winnipeg’s cold,” said Miller, from the campus of the University of Winnipeg. “I’m from Phoenix, Ariz. I just can’t prepare for it. It’s just way too cold for me.”
Perhaps that’s why she’s always on fire on the court.
Last season, Miller was U SPORTS Women’s Basketball Defensive Player of the Year and a first team U SPORTS All-Canadian.
Her numbers were eye-popping. The 5-foot-6, fourth year guard from finished among the league leaders in both offensive and defensive categories during the 2016-2017 Canada West regular season. Her relentless play at both ends of the court played a vital role in helping the Wesmen finish with an 18-2 regular season record and a first place finish in the Canada West Women’s Basketball conference standings.
She finished regular season play with 72 steals (third in the country) and was instrumental in Winnipeg’s suffocating defensive play that allowed only 60.7 points per game. Miller and her teammates held their opponents to just 37.6 per cent shooting from the field. She became the first Wesmen player ever to be named U SPORTS Defensive Player of the Year.
On offence, Miller was sensational, finishing fourth in the nation in scoring with an 18.7 points per game average. She finished first in Canada West in assists with 76.
This season, her fifth year of U SPORTS eligibility, she’s been even better. In her first two conference games this season, Miller is averaging 28.5 points, 3.5 assists and 13.5 rebounds per game. The Wesmen won both games, 77-51 and 76-57 over Mount Royal. She had 36 points and 14 rebounds in the second game.
There is a very good chance, she’s the best player in the country.
“Well, there’s always room for improvement,” Miller said modestly. “That’s what I tell myself every day.”
Miller grew up in Phoenix playing basketball with the boys on the city’s playgrounds. She was a high school star who went to Phoenix College, a junior college in her hometown.
During a Christmas tournament in her hometown, she played against the University of Saskatchewan Huskies and became intrigued with playing basketball in Canada.
“I was going to go to the University of Nebraska to play, but I was still short two classes,” she said. “After we played against Saskatchewan, I talked to the coach and thought it would be cool to play in Canada. There were always a lot of Canadian players going south to play and I thought it would be cool to go in the other direction.
“I learned a lot at Saskatchewan, but I just didn’t like the way I was being used. I did everything the coach told me, but I just never felt very good about it. Then, we played a game against the University of Winnipeg and I just loved the way Coach (Tanya) McKay’s team played. I thought, ‘That’s the way I want to play basketball.”
So she emailed Coach McKay, they struck up an on-line friendship and Miller, who is 25, decided to head to the U of W. It was the best decision she could have made.
“She lets me play my game,” Miller said. “I feel like I’m free. This is basketball. When I first saw Winnipeg play, I saw a different style and Winnipeg allowed me the opportunity to play the game with some freedom. Coach McKay is one of my favorite coaches of all-time. She believes in me and that confidence boost goes a long way.”
There is no doubt McKay believes in Miller. After Miller was named a Canada West All-Star last year, the coach had this to say: “Her ability to be consistent each and every game and push and elevate the play of her teammates has been outstanding. Antoinette’s style of play to the push the ball in transition, her touch to finish at the rim amongst the trees, and her tenacious defensive presence has helped our team be among the top teams in the country.”
Miller is in the Recreation and Applied Health program at the U of W and says she wants to graduate from Winnipeg, However, next year she intends to try to hand at professional basketball.
“This is my last year and want to graduate from here,” she said, “but I’m just 25 and still in my prime so I want to try to play pro overseas next year. I can always come back and graduate, but after this year, it’s time for me to cash a few cheques.”
Scott Taylor for The Manitoba Post
Photos by Kelly Morton/University of Winnipeg
(This story appeared originally in SportsLife Magazine)