PITTSBURGH — It is safe to say that this season has been a learning experience for Duquesne freshman guard Ashton Miller, but when the need for help arises, he does not have to look far.
After all, his cousin Ashton Gibbs is Duquesne’s Director of Player Development and with that relationship comes the ability to talk to each other in a way other coaches may not be able to.
“It really helps me tremendously with everything both on the court and off the court,” Miller said. “It challenges me because I have to bring it every day or I know he’s going to get on me. It makes sure I am doing the right thing always.”
Gibbs has a tough line to navigate as Miller is family in more than one sense but at the same time the former does not view his task in coaching the latter as difficult because he insists on “keeping it real at all times”.
Admittedly, Miller was not getting much looks from Duquesne before Gibbs came to the Bluff. He was offensively regarded after helping his Seton Hall prep team go from a 7-6 start to a 19-8 overall finish scoring 20.2 points per game and 25.8 ppg in his final five games.
During off-season workouts, Miller would often be seen trying to use crossover penetration from beyond the 3-point line in an effort to set up his own shot, but the 6-foot-5 guard had to understand that the college game was an adjustment.
“In high school, you come from a different scheme,” said Miller. “Here at college, you have to do everything. Play good defense, make open shots, do all the little things. it’s different but every level has its changes.”
Early on in the season, Miller suffered an injury and when he returned, his minutes started to decrease.
In those moments, Gibbs was able to keep his cousin level-headed, while also making sure he recovered the right way.
When Miller started to get back to full strength, he saw a role change. Now he was not being counted on as much for making shots, but finding open players and defending.
“It hurt me a little bit, but it didn’t hurt me too much,” Miller said of the injury. “My role is amplified a lot more now. I’m not in the same role now, but it feels the same, feels good, do what I can do to help my team.”
A lot of players struggle with adjusting with the move from high school, but Miller states that even with so many of his cousins having played and described what to expect when it comes to college basketball, going through it himself is a different experience.
Now Gibbs is helping Miller adjust to having more of a defensive-oriented role. Both admit it is an adjustment going from being a leader at Seton Hall prep to now where it is showing defensive improvement in practice to earn playing time.
“The biggest thing with him is learning how to play defensively and how important defense is,” said Gibbs. “That was the biggest change, his mindset and understanding doing the little things like take charges, close out well, play one-on-one defense, help defense and really now he has the be defensive-based and let that be the catalyst for his offensive game.”
Even with this adjustment, Gibbs believes there is plenty to learn because having a defensive-first mindset can be difficult for a freshman to commit to because it is a case where as a defender you have to be on all of the time and not take plays off.
“I tell him to keep fighting,” Gibbs said. “It’s a life lesson at the end of the day, not just a basketball lesson. Can you withstand the battle, stay at it and have a positive mindset to push through?”
One such example that shows Miller’s promise occurred Feb. 5 at Saint Louis where he set up in a defensive stance and drew a charging foul from All-A10 selection Hasahn French.
The Duquesne bench roared in approval at the sequence and even Miller allowed a slight smile to form on his face as he knew he had done his job.
“It shows that I am understanding the college level a lot more now,” he said. “I’m knowing what’s going to happen, and slowing down which has helped me tremendously.”
Coming into the season, it is certain that Miller likely expected to play more than 9.2 minutes a game but like his teammates, he wants to win games and understands that he will have to work that much harder in the off-season.
Additionally, Gibbs can relate as Pitt was good in his freshman campaign so he took it upon himself to work hard in the gym and know that the opportunity will come.
While at Pitt, and overseas for that matter, Gibbs admitted that he was not the strongest, nor the fastest, but was the most consistent. He hopes that message whether spoken, read through articles or viewed through videos he sends is heard by his cousin.
One of Gibbs’s favorite stories he shares with Miller comes from former Pitt teammate Sam Young. Young redshirted his freshman year and was always first in the gym. One summer when he was an upperclassmen, Young literally lived in the gym locker room. He would bring a tent and sleep in the locker room, wake up, get his lifts in, shots up and made sure his academics were in good standing, but it was clear how much basketball meant to him.
“I tell Ashton to be consistent, take care of your lifestyle off the court and the rest is history,” said Gibbs. “It’s all a patient process.”
It is clear that Gibbs is proud of his cousin who has been able to change his game to successfully help Duquesne do things it either has never done or not done in quite some time. What happens the rest of the season is unknown, but Miller may well have a hand in the end result.
“Even though he is not playing as much, he is one of the first in the gym every single day,” Gibbs said. “He’s fighting and he is withstanding the punch. I’m sure he wants to play more, but he is keeping the same habits. It’s eventually going to show if he stays consistent.”