Leonard Miller, this year’s most intriguing NBA draft prospect

When Scarborough’s Leonard Miller arrived at the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland last month, he was the only Canadian invited to represent Team World in a game featuring some of basketball’s top young prospects.

But hardly anyone there had seen him play before.

The best high school basketball player in Canada was a mystery. NBA scouts heard whispers, saw video of him dominating in Ontario, but he was a player who hadn’t played a second of AAU basketball. Still, he was posting ridiculous numbers for a new high school team at Fort Erie International Academy, near the Buffalo border.

During the first practice open to NBA scouts and members of the media, Miller accidentally arrived early at the end of Team USA practice at the Portland Trail Blazers practice facility. It was hard not to notice the incoming six-foot-11 Canadian phenom. But he wasn’t allowed to practice early, so he was escorted to the parking lot.

“It was just me trying to work to get better. It’s the only way to get better and that’s what I tried to do today and that’s what I did. with all my heart,” Miller, 18, laughed in an interview with the Star in Portland after being cleared to practice.

Arriving early is nothing new for Miller. He grew up sleeping on the bus at 102 Markham Road in Scarborough, traveling at 4 a.m. to a 6 a.m. practice at Thornlea Secondary School in Thornhill to train with the senior team in which he wasn’t even a part of because he was too young.

Miller’s week-long showcase in Portland is where his name first started making buzz. The first workout has some wondering where he’s been hiding all this time.

What makes Miller so intriguing to NBA teams is his height, length (his wingspan is seven-foot-two), and his athleticism. Players who can dribble, pass and shoot at his height are highly sought after.

It was that week that Miller began appearing on mock NBA draft boards as a potential second-round pick. Athletic’s last mock draft selected him by the Raptors with their No. 33 pick. ESPN took him to No. 37 by the Sacramento Kings.

“It’s just a blessing,” Miller said. “A great achievement like this to happen, I’m blessed for it and I know inside that I’m happy, but I still have to keep working. I still want to accomplish a lot more than that. is just a small thing of what I have to come.

Many scouts left Portland thinking he was the best international prospect. As one trainer said, even in closed practice he looked so dominant.

His performance led to last week’s NBA Draft combination in Chicago, where he was the youngest player invited. Miller has met a dozen NBA teams, including the Toronto Raptors and Atlanta Hawks. The Star was informed that he has been invited by several teams to participate in pre-draft training sessions over the next few weeks.

NBA scouts walked away from the showcase recognizing Miller’s youth and his need for more reps against established players.

Now Miller has a decision to make: stay in the NBA draft, withdraw his name by Wednesday to maintain college eligibility and attend Kentucky or Arizona, or earn a salary with the G League Ignite before moving on. participate in the repechage again.

“I’m just a kid from Scarborough, I beat all odds. My work is still not finished, I am still trying to reach other heights above. But it’s still a blessing,” Miller said. “If you don’t see much of Scarborough coming out and I do, that gives hope to everyone else in my community who is young.”

Leonard Miller, Canada's top high school player, dribbles the ball around a defender during the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last week.

Miller is the same kid who used to hang out at the East Scarborough Boys and Girls club at 100 Galloway Rd. and challenge anyone to a pick-up game. His high school coach, Charles Hantoumakos, remembers a 12-year-old Miller, dead and serious, telling D’André Bernard – the No. 2 ranked high school player in Canada in 2015 – that he could outshoot him in training.

Six years later, Miller was the main attraction at the Biosteel All-Canadian Game in April and was unsurprised when he was presented with the Canadian Player of the Year trophy. TSN producers told coaches to ask players in the game to write down two things about themselves that could be mentioned on the show. All Miller wrote was that he was the best player in the world.

“That kid believed when the whole world told him you were crazy, you’re not that guy,” Hantoumakos said. “He was like, ‘No, I am.’ ”

Hantoumakos first met Miller through his older brother Elijah, whom he coached at Bill Crothers High School. A few months into the season, Elijah left the team unexpectedly and stopped playing basketball altogether. This left Hantoumakos confused. He later finds out that Elijah quit to take his two younger brothers to their own basketball practices and help pay for their fees because he saw they had more potential than he did.

Elijah sacrificed his dreams for his two younger siblings – Leonard who was in fourth grade at the time and Emanuel, who was in 7th grade.

“It says a lot about a person,” Hantoumakos said. “At 18, giving up their sport and what they love to do because they see the promise in their little brothers. It kind of shows you love what a special guy he is.

All Elijah ingrained in his younger brothers growing up was that the ultimate goal was to take care of their mother. Emanuel then played in the NCAA at Texas Christian University. He was also part of the first Canadian national team to win a gold medal at the FIBA ​​U-19 Basketball World Cup.

During this time, Miller also took his talents outside of Canada and attended a prep school in Utah to further develop against world-class prospects. During his freshman year away from home at Wasatch Academy, he spent most of his time getting on the bench. The coaches didn’t believe he was talented enough, except for Miller. They sent out questionnaires asking everyone on the team who was the best player, shooter, defender, passer and rebounder. Miller wrote his name every time, even though he barely played.

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While he struggled to adapt to a sporadic growth spurt – at 14 he was 6ft 2in and he is now 6ft 11in – an injury has also stunted his development.

When he left Utah to attend Victory Rock Prep School in Florida, he suffered a broken right wrist in early November 2020 that sidelined him for several months.

The injury required surgery but was blocked due to the pandemic. Miller had to wait so long that he risked training with a broken wrist.

“Before I had surgery, before I even had to put on the cast, I was still using it. I probably shouldn’t have done it, but I was so looking forward to playing. I felt like I had to do it,” Miller said.

After the operation, it took a few months for Miller’s wrist to fully heal. He was unable to play in the AAU or spend time with Canada Basketball. It was about nine months later that he again made his first local public appearance in basketball, at the annual Jane and Finch Classic tournament. People saw Miller perform for the first time in nearly two years.

Miller then played for Fort Erie International Academy where he quickly became a star and started the season scoring 45 points in a game and then 59 points in the same week. NBA and college scouts who saw him earlier this year were impressed when his season ended, with many saying he looked like NBA-ready talent.

Miller received more than 25 scholarship offers from across the country as he led Fort Erie to an Ontario championship in its inaugural season while being named league MVP.

What stands out most for those close to Miller is his journey to get to this point. He didn’t grow up like many highly touted prospects with his own personal trainer – he just had his older brother, bouncing for him on the streets of Scarborough.

“When you talk about coming from nothing, he came from nothing. Single mother. Five kids, taking a bus everywhere you go,” Elijah said. “Not having a gym sometimes, being stuck in the US because of COVID and some restrictions and not having a trainer.

“He got it in the mud and he still hasn’t finished. If he can do it, anyone else can do it.

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