Macy Miller is ready for her next chapter
After a season playing abroad, the South Dakota State legend heads home to be the Jackrabbits' new graduate assistant coach
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SIOUX FALLS, SD - MARCH 12: Macy Miller #12 from South Dakota State shoots a jumper over the hands of Monica Arens #11 from South Dakota at the 2019 Summit League Basketball Tournament at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls. (Photo by Dave Eggen/Inertia)
Around the same time that NCAA teams around the country saw their seasons — and, for many seniors, their basketball careers — come to a halt in March due to the spread of COVID-19, South Dakota State alumna Macy Miller faced a similar predicament in Ferrol, Spain.
The choices were to stay in Spain and finish out her first professional season with Baxi Ferrol, where she was starting to find her groove at the next level after a challenging (yet, by the numbers, successful) transition, or head home to Mitchell, S.D. and face the growing pandemic close to family.
“I was like, what do I do? I’m in this country by myself. So I was just talking to my mom, and she’s like, ‘I think it’s best for you to come home,’’ Miller told The Next. “It was a stressful couple of days trying to figure out what to do and buying a flight, but I'm thankful to be back.”
That also meant saying goodbye to her playing career in much the same way that those NCAA seniors just had. After years full of personal (and team) accolades, including becoming the career scoring leader for both South Dakota State and the Summit League and being selected in the 2019 WNBA Draft, Miller is walking away from the court.
She’s not going too far, though — all things considered, she’s barely leaving. On June 11, South Dakota State announced Miller would join the staff as the team’s new graduate assistant coach. She moved back to Brookings, S.D. last month, and the team recently started voluntary workouts.
“We are thrilled to have Macy return to SDSU and join our staff,” said head coach Aaron Johnston in a release. “She was one of the very best to ever play at SDSU and her positive impact on the game of basketball stretched throughout the state. I am excited to see her transition into a new role where she can use her experiences to positively impact our current and future Jackrabbits.”
The opportunity came up organically, Miller said, thanks to keeping in contact with the coaching staff after she graduated. In January, Johnston asked her to circle back after the end of the Spanish season and let him know how she felt about coming back to South Dakota State to assume the role.
Miller wants to be a college coach — specifically, a college coach in the state of South Dakota — so for her, this turn of events couldn’t have been scripted better.
“Somewhere where I’ve played, with a great program, in Division I?” she said. “I was like, this is a great opportunity for me to learn from this coaching staff.”
The graduate assistantship also, of course, comes with the rigors of graduate study. Miller will study sport and recreation administration while working with the women’s basketball team in areas including coordinating travel and video work. Right now, amid the uncertainty that the pandemic invites, she’s just filling in where she’s needed.
According to the South Dakota State website, the sport and recreation administration master’s program “prepares students to become dynamic leaders in intercollegiate athletics as well as campus and community recreation.”
Working with one of the top women’s basketball teams in the country offers an ideal way for Miller to develop those skills outside the classroom, too.
“I’m a quiet person, I don’t like to raise my voice a lot,” she said. “So [I’m] learning from that, and learning from [Johnston] and the coaches. See how they run it, see the knowledge that they have. I think that’s exciting to learn from them and also to take a big step in my leadership by coaching.”
SIOUX FALLS, SD - MARCH 12: Macy Miller #12 from South Dakota State shoots a jumper at the 2019 Summit League Basketball Tournament at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls. (Photo by Dave Eggen/Inertia)
She’s also excited to be catching up with some of her former teammates and sharing her experiences with them (and noted that the age difference is just big enough now that it’s “not weird” to be their coach).
Now that Miller has decided to move on from playing, her path forward will be all about developing her skills just down the bench from the staff that held her up during her college career.
“When I [decided] I was going to be a GA, I was ready to move on,” she said. “It stinks, but I know I have that feeling that I’m ready and I’m excited for this next step.”
Plus, Miller has already been a part of so much history as part of a relatively young cohort of South Dakota schools in the top level of college sports. South Dakota State started competing in Division I in 2004, while South Dakota joined in 2008.
Because she grew up in South Dakota, Miller felt a particular tie to this rise.
“I think it’s so cool,” she said. “To see us nationally, playing on the big stage, it means so much. I remember when I was younger, just watching them. I was like, one day, I want to do that.”
Just one season after South Dakota State made its mark as the first Summit League team to make the NCAA Sweet Sixteen, rival South Dakota’s 2019-20 team seemed poised to match that accomplishment right away, if not for the NCAA Tournament’s cancellation. The Coyotes went 16-0 in conference play, finished No. 17 in the AP Poll and rarely seemed challenged — that is, until a tough matchup with the Jackrabbits in the conference tournament title game. South Dakota won, but just barely.
Having won nine of the last 12 Summit League tournaments, including in four of five of Miller’s years on the team (she was out with an injury the season they didn’t win), South Dakota State is generally seen as the conference’s go-to automatic NCAA bid. Miller felt that shift as she followed the team last season.
But the prospect of being the “underdog” between two national powers offers some extra motivation for her on the coaching side, for sure.
“It’ll be different [not being the team to beat], but we gotta work hard and get back up there,” Miller said. “You obviously don’t like to be the one with the target on your back, but we’ve gotta work our tails off and get back up there.”