Miles Jr. became more than just a quote 158

MORGANTOWN — Wide-eyed, energetic and confident, Daxter Miles Jr.’s first trip to the NCAA tournament found him playing in the 2016 Sweet 16.

He sat at his locker stall, inside Quickens Loans Arena, with teammate Jonathan Holton just to his right and surrounded by dozens of media, all looking for a quote to lead their story about the underdog Mountaineers getting set to face top-ranked Kentucky.

Miles gave it to them.

“Salute them to getting to 36-0,” Miles began. “But tomorrow they’re going to be 36-1.”

It is now four years later and Miles has moved on from that day and what happened next — a 78-39 Kentucky victory.

The Wildcats, too, have moved on … mostly to the NBA. Four starters and six players from that team are now playing in the NBA, including forward Karl Anthony-Towns, who won the 2016 Rookie of the Year by a unanimous vote.

“I don’t really think about it too much,” Miles said during Big 12 media day this season. “You just have to stay focused and keep moving forward.”

The seventh-ranked Mountaineers (16-4, 5-3 Big 12) will face Kentucky (15-5, 5-3 SEC), at 7 p.m. on Jan. 27, at the WVU Coliseum, in what will mark the first game between the two schools since that Sweet 16 meeting.

The game is part of the annual Big 12/SEC Challenge.

That notion is not lost on Miles, who simply gave a quick smile when reminded at media day that WVU and Kentucky would meet again.

“I’m just moving forward,” he said.

The “36-1” quote was quickly twisted into some sort of Joe Namath-like guarantee and it didn’t take long for those same reporters to make their way into Kentucky’s locker room looking for a reaction.

The morning of the game, ESPN took the statement and ran with it, analyzing on SportsCenter why a freshman would want to say that about the then-undefeated Wildcats.

Behind the scenes, WVU head coach Bob Huggins said, there wasn’t much different going on in the Mountaineers’ camp but normal game-day preparation.

There was no panic or no emergency team meeting.

“I just told him it was B.S.,” Huggins said. “I just told him it was the media trying to create something.

“What was the kid going to say, “Oh no, we’re going to lose?’ He’s not going to say that. No one is going to come out and say, ‘Oh yeah, they’re really good, we’re going to lose.’ That doesn’t happen.”

Four years later, Miles has said a number of times how he has grown as an individual and as a player while at WVU.

He’s already surpassed 1,100 career points and recently recorded his 200th career assist.

To this point, WVU has won 95 games during Miles’ career, putting him and teammate Jevon Carter on pace to become the winningest four-year players in school history.

That is what Miles wants people to remember. Not some quote about some game played four years ago in Cleveland.

“The records and points don’t mean a whole lot if you don’t win,” Miles said after scoring his 1,000th career point against Coppin State. “That’s what I want people to remember about me, that I was a winner.”

And so Miles and the Mountaineers face Kentucky again.

This time, it’s a Miles who has developed into a senior providing leadership and maybe not so wide-eyed as before.

Still confident, though. Huggins said the ordeal never really changed who Miles was as a person.

“If you go ask him now, he’d probably tell you the same thing,” Huggins said.

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