At the Pasadena Poly Panthers' final home game of the regular season, against the Webb Gauls, three posters plastered the gym's wall, bidding farewell to the graduating Panther seniors. "Don't sweat Tessa my swag" referred to No. 12 Tessa Loera, a forward; another gave a shout-out to Loera's fellow forward, "Princess" Rafaela Bustamante, No. 44. And then there was the poster for the team's shooting guard: "Michelle Miller #32. 'Nuff said."
Indeed. Miller scored within 10 seconds of the game's start, slicing through three defenders for a layup. That was just the beginning.
To call Miller an outstanding student athlete would be an understatement. In February she finished her high school basketball career with 3,331 points -- 435 more than those accumulated by former Los Angeles Sparks superstar Lisa Leslie during her years at Morningside High. Miller now ranks as the second-highest scorer in her division of all time, behind the legendary Cheryl Miller (no relation), and the fifth highest all-time career scorer in girls high school basketball in the state.
All that record-breaking work was done while juggling other sports (volleyball, swimming), her 5.0 GPA (that's not a typo) and college applications (she's headed to the Ivy League to be a Princeton Tiger).
Like many kids of Japanese descent in Southern California, Miller spent her elementary school days playing in local Japanese-American basketball leagues, which for generations have been integral in preserving the community's bond. By high school, she was a force to be reckoned with.
"Sometimes they triple-team me, or try a triangle-and-2 or box-and-1, which don't work, because it's not like my teammates aren't really good," Miller says. She ticks off her team's strengths like a seasoned coach: Loera "sets up really good screens," while Kiki Yang is "fast, really quick with the ball.
"I just want to help," she shrugs. "I'd rather not score anything but still help my team win than score a lot of points and see my team lose."
That honest humility, combined with what Miller's head coach, Kim Weber, calls her "levelheaded, quiet" personality, might explain why Miller never crumbled under the weight of the record books. The only time she was conscious of statistics, in fact, was when she broke Leslie's record. "Because it's Lisa Leslie, you know?" Miller says.
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During the Poly-Webb game, Miller moved into sixth place on the all-time scoring list, setting the stage for the following postseason game, when she leapt into fifth place. Opposite Webb, she truly was onstage: owning the perimeter, driving the lanes, stopping short for a beautiful, fadeaway jumper. A few stellar plays later, she snatched a rebound, flying down the court at a fierce dribble and passing the ball to another Panther for the assist.
Miller sat out the last part of the final quarter, having logged most of her 32 points in the first three.
The final score: Webb, 14. Poly 75. 'Nuff said.