MONTGOMERY: Miller steps up in new role

Senior starting for MHS hoops

By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor
   It wasn’t hard to spot Alex Miller on the basketball court last year. He was usually the guy camped out in the corner waiting to get the ball and knock down an open shot.
   But this year, with a new cast around him, Miller has had to take on a different and bigger role for the Montgomery High boys basketball team.
   ”Last year I was a catch and shoot player,” said Miller, a senior who came off the bench as the Cougars’ sixth man last year. “This year I have had to step up and do more things. I have had to guard bigger guys. I’ll pass and cut and drive more.”
   Miller has made his presence known on the court this year for more than just his three-point shooting from the corner. He made three of those three-point shots on Tuesday, but also scored on drives and putbacks and finished with 17 points as the Cougars evened their record at 3-3 with a 69-57 win over Watchung Hills.
   ”He was the first guy off the bench last year and that was his role,” Montgomery coach Kris Grundy said. “He would stand in the corner and they would double down on Justin (Kovacevich), or Chase or Tim Youreneff or Greg (Tarca) would get doubled and there Alex was open. Last year he was wide open in the corner a lot and that was his role.
   ”This year he worked hard in the offseason to develop his ball-handling skills and the proof is in the pudding. He can hit the three but he is also ripping and getting to the basket. He got some offensive rebounds tonight. He is doing a lot for us.”
   The Cougars have a vastly different look as a team this year. The size they had last year is gone and they now have a smaller, quicker team.
   ”What we lack in height we are trying to make up for in athleticism,” said Miller, who is averaging 11.2 points a game this season. “So we’ll full-court trap. We have a lot of football players on the team who can run and jump so that creates turnovers and points for us.
   ”Our point guard, Chase Ta, has been out all summer. So we didn’t get to play with him all summer. He just came back in the fall so we’re still trying to find our chemistry. Tonight everything seemed to click.”
   Mitch Chugunov, who is in his first season as a starter for the Cougars, led the scoring with 21 points in the win over the Warriors. Ta added 14 as six different players scored at least five points.
   ”Last year was different,” said Miller, who plans to play baseball at Franklin & Marshall next year. “Any one of the six guys who stepped on the floor, even seven, could be the leading scorer for the night. This year we’re lacking experience at the varsity level. Darron (Wallace) and Chase are returning starters and I was the sixth man. Mitch is starting for us this year and he didn’t have a lot of experience. (Matt Stagnitta) is playing more. They are finding themselves now and really stepped up today.”
   Unlike last year’s team, which could pound the ball inside and had a great deal of experience, this year’s Montgomery team will approach the game differently.
   ”We have different strengths,” Grundy said. “I feel like we really need to take advantage of our athleticism and our quickness this year. We’re running some new stuff on offense. Last year we had a lot of length and a lot of size so we were able to pound the ball inside and get a lot of touches. This year we’re trying to rely on our quickness. We’ve had mixed results but hopefully tonight will be a sign of good things to come.”
   The Cougars will be put to a huge test on Saturday night when they face Elizabeth. The game is the final one of six that will be played at Montgomery on Saturday, with the first one starting at 10:30 a.m. The games are part of the Coaches vs. Cancer event that will raise money for cancer research.
   ”This is the third one,” Grundy said. “We’re going with six games starting at 10:30 in the morning and we have six different counties represented. We’re just hoping to raise a lot of money for cancer research.”