Willie Miller comes back strong from semi-retirement

MANILA, Philippines — In his first two games back after missing one conference, Willie Miller proved "The Thrill" is still far from over.

The effects of being thrust into semi-retirement did not show for the veteran guard on Wednesday, January 28 when he scored 10 points, dished out 3 assists, and helped his new team Talk 'N Text Tropang Texters to an 89-86 escape of Rain or Shine.

Neither was it visible in his 8-point performance off the bench in the Texters' 88-78 win over Blackwater on Sunday, February 1.

"Parang na-injury ka lang ng one conference," he said following his first PBA game since June. "Buti nga nanalo sa first game, masarap yung pakiramdam. Hindi ako malas masyado." (It’s just like being injured for one conference. It’s a good thing we won our first game, it’s a great feeling. I’m not too unlucky.)

The two-time PBA Most Valuable Player was left out in the cold after his contract with Barako Bull was not renewed before the 2015 Philippine Cup.

While some teams showed interest in signing the 37-year old for his wealth of experience and the mentorship he could provide, Miller still wound up unsigned. He instead took his talents to barangay courts and played in local community leagues.

Miller knew he had more to give, and one team showed faith in him — the same team he played for from 2004 to 2006, then side by side with the now retired Jimmy Alapag and the still thriving 41-year old Asi Taulava. 

Talk 'N Text signed Miller for the remainder of the season, hoping to fill the void veteran guard Alapag left.

"Siguro yun yung pupunan ko kasi si Jimmy yun yung (iniwan) niya," Miller shared his playmaker-leader role. "Mas masarap kasi makikita mo yung kakampi mo, kahit nasa labas ka lang nakikita mo sila na as one sa loob."

(I'm likely filling in what Jimmy left behind. It feels good to see your teammates play as one inside even when you’re on the bench.)

Alam ko na yung ganoong role. Pag ikaw nasa loob, ang role mo naman is be one of the leaders. Ako ung tagasalita dahil ako yung pinakamatanda dun sa grupo namin eh. Ako yung kailangan mag-kontrol ng laro. Ako yung taga-bond nung team,” he added. 

(I know that role already. When you’re inside, your role is to be one of the leaders. I’m the speaker because I’m the oldest in our group. I have to control the game. I have to bond the team together.)

Miller did not disappoint as he stormed back into the 2015 PBA Commissioner's Cup, quickly making a difference for a Talk 'N Text squad enduring growing pains.

In his first game back, he was subbed in at the 2:53 mark of the opening period to cheers of “Miller! Miller!” from the crowd, and he recorded his first assist to Aaron Aban for a trey less than a minute into the second frame.

He looked at ease right away with the Texters, sharing jokes with teammates during huddles, but Miller, who has been practicing with them for just a little over a week, admitted his aging body could not keep up with speed just yet.

"Masyadong matulin yung basketball dito sa Talk 'N Text. Kasi rookie ako eh. Last time na takbuhan yung laro ko is yung nasa Talk 'N Text din ako. So from the year nung na-trade ako sa Alaska wala na, slow break na lahat, puro pagulangan na lang,” explained Miller, who missed his first 3 shots and traveled during his first few minutes in his first game.

"Yung first few minutes, depensa, takbo, opensa, takbo. Mas matulin ung tibok ng puso ko than usual. As a player kailangan maka-adjust kaagad ako dun sa ganoong sistema.” 

(Talk ’N Text basketball is very fast for me because essentially I’m a rookie. The last time I played a running game was with Talk ’N Text also. So from the year I was traded to Alaska, everything was slow breaks and just outsmarting the opponent. In the first few minutes of the game it was all defense, run, offense, run. My heart beat faster than usual. As a player I have to adjust right away to that system.)

Miller also had quiet but crucial contributions in his second game with the Texters.

His 8 points off the bench were key to keeping Talk 'N Text at par with a surging Blackwater squad in a tight first half, before Talk 'N Text eventually seized the win with a fourth quarter surge.

Despite showing flashes of his vintage form with reverse lay-ups deep underneath the rim, and his playmaking that led to neat finishes from his teammates two games in, it was still clear Miller continues to adjust.

Adjustment will likely come easier for Miller thanks to familiarity.

While Alapag will no longer be his backcourt partner unlike the old days, Miller will still have the Mighty Mouse backing him up as team manager – or, as Miller put it, as someone he can poke fun at for being “The Boss.”

"Kinuklit ko nga parati eh. Pag dadaan hindi ako sanay na naka-uniform tapos siya hindi. Tinatawag ko parati, ‘Boss! Good evening.' Tatawa lang ng tatawa. Hindi na ‘kap' ngayon eh, boss na,” he shared his day-to-day dynamic with Alapag, before recalling the old days as teammates.

Yung kombinasyon namin ni Jimmy, yun yung pinaka-masarap noon eh, tapos that time nandoon din si Asi.” 

(I keep teasing him. When he passes me by I’m not used to being in a jersey uniform and he’s not. I keep calling him, ‘Boss! Good evening.’ And he’ll just laugh. He’s no longer captain now, he’s the boss. The combination with Jimmy and I before, that was the best, and at that time we also had Asi.)

Miller's first two games back were the perfect way to denounce those who said he was done for at 37.

Only time can tell if Miller still has one more championship run left in him, too. — Rappler.com