• “Nate was a great athlete, great basketball player, but an even better human being.”
• “Losing Nate is just like losing Kobe to me. Somebody that inspired my love for the game.”
• “Nate was doing something special, not just in Springfield but in the area.”
• “Springfield just lost a good dude and a LEGEND.”
Nate was just “Junie,” as in Junior, to his mom. She and a few of her friends were the only ones who called him that. Nate’s grandfather, also Nate Miller, was a standout athlete at Springfield High School in the 1950s. His dad Nate Miller Sr. starred for South High School, graduating in 1977.
Nate Miller Jr., born Aug. 12, 1987, in Springfield, came along and pushed the Miller name to new heights with his basketball career, first in high school and college and then overseas in Spain, Israel, Mexico, Argentina and South Korea.
In recent years, Miller made his mark coaching in basketball and baseball at the middle school level in the Springfield City School District. He also ran his own program, Millerz Elite Basketball. He had recently been named the head junior varsity coach at Springfield. He got the job just months after being inducted into Springfield High School’s Hall of Fame in January.
Larry Ham, who coached Miller throughout his high school career, remembers thinking Miller would be a coach one day when Miller came back to the high school after graduation to work with younger kids. Ham saw Miller this spring at his grandson’s eighth-grade graduation and congratulated him on his recent success.
“He said to me, ‘Thanks, coach; I’m just trying to be a mini you,’ or something like that,” Ham said. “He said, ‘They just hired me as JV coach at the high school. I said, ‘Congratulations on that.’ He was excited about it. I said, ‘Are you trying to position yourself?’ He said, “Yes, I am.’”
It would have been a natural progression for Miller to one day take over the head coaching job at his alma mater. Instead, there’s heartbreak in his hometown.
Chris Wallace, another South athletic star who’s now the offensive coordinator for the Springfield football team, shared a photo on Facebook of a group of eighth and ninth graders, some of whom would have played for Miller next season, who got together for an open gym last weekend. Wallace wanted to cancel the gathering, he wrote, but asked the kids if they wanted to play.
“This controlled open gym turned into a comfort zone for the kids, and men of the community showed up to add support for these kids to deal with their confusion and heartache,” Wallace wrote. “Tears were shed prior to and words were shared between teammates and friends. Then they all decided to show their respect to to coach Nate by getting after it for two hours as well. As long as they’re walking this earth to put their best foot forward, Nate, I will do my best to continue what you wanted for our kids and community and that is making sure that every one of our children have their opportunity to be successful. Rest up, young fella.”
Wallace was a star quarterback for South in the 1990s, and Miller’s basketball success after high school makes it easy to forget what he did on the football field. He was an All-Ohio first-team selection as a senior in 2004. He was honored as a defensive back but also scored 15 touchdowns on offense.
”He’s the kind of kid who could make it at any position he wanted to,” then coach Tony Broering said in 2004. “Nathan took some big steps this year.”
Miller also grew up playing baseball and excelled in that sport, too.
“He was the home run king,” Janine said. “He had so many home run balls he collected.”
Miller gave up baseball in the seventh grade to focus on football and basketball. There was no doubt he felt most at home on the basketball court. Janine traveled the country — Las Vegas, Walt Disney World, you name it — watching him play AAU basketbal. Miller could have played college football if he wanted, but there was no doubt the route he would choose.
“I just love basketball,” Miller told the News-Sun in 2004. “I want to play basketball until I can’t no more.”
Miller had plenty of time to devote to sports. His mom said he was spoiled by his five siblings — all sisters.
“Everybody had chores,” Janine said, “and his sisters always covered for him. Every now and then he would do them, but he would be like, ‘I’ve got practice.’”
Miller helped lead South to a 23-3 record and a Division I regional final appearance as a junior in 2004 when he averaged 17.5 points and 12.0 rebounds during his junior season. The Wildcats also starred Isaiah Carson and James Cooper, who were seniors that season.
“That was just a good group,” Ham said, “and they mixed well together. They were really just awesome.”
Ham thought Miller would go to Bowling Green right out of South, but Miller fell in love with UNC Wilmington on a visit and spent his first season in college basketball there. He appeared in only nine games, though. He wasn’t happy so far from home and transferred to Bowling Green midway through the season.
“All my (UNCW) teammates were real cool, and the coaches weren’t bad either,” Miller told the News-Sun in 2006, “but I felt like I had to do what was best to me.”
Miller played three seasons at Bowling Green and ranks 37th in school history with 1,133 points. He was a big scorer at the next level, too, and averaged a career-best 22.4 points per game in the 2011-12 season in Israel. As recently as 2019, he averaged 9.5 points per game in 31 games in Seoul, South Korea.
After his playing career ended, Miller spent more time on other people. He wanted to help kids in trouble, said Janine, who’s a social worker herself. He also worked as a substitute teacher at Roosevelt Middle School, where he coached the basketball team to a 13-1 record last season.
Of course, his main focus was on his sons, who were both born in Israel when he was playing there.
“He would often say to all that everything he does is for his boys,” Janine wrote in her son’s obituary. “Nate was also a surrogate for many other youth wherever he went.”