Twin sisters Coco and Kelly Miller top off their careers in the WNBA
by Jim Burke
In 1995, twin sisters Kelly and Coco Miller led Rochester- -Mayo to the Minnesota state basketball championship in their sophomore season. It was around that time that plans for a women's professional basketball league with the backing of the NBA began to take shape. In 1997, Kelly and Coco wrapped up their high school careers by once again propelling Rochester-Mayo to the state basketball title. A few months later the WNBA tipped off its inaugural season and in doing so, gave young girls a chance to dream the dream that previously had been reserved for their male counterparts, the dream of playing professional basketball.
SHOW ON THE ROAD
Coco and Kelly still had college to think about and in 1997 the idea of two nationally recruited basketball blue chippers staying home and playing for the Lady Gophers was about as likely as a kid from say, North Dakota scoring a goal to win the National Championship for the Gopher Hockey team. So, the Millers did the sensible thing and took their show on the road to the University of Georgia in the prestigious Southeastern Conference. Coco explains, "We definitely looked at Minnesota. It would have been nice to stay home because Minnesota has great support for basketball. Georgia provided better opportunities for us at the time." One of the opportunities Georgia provided the sisters was a Final Four appearance in 1999. The decision to attend Georgia had an added benefit according to Kelly, "The SEC was a very tough conference and that helped prepare us for this league."
"This league" would be the WNBA, where in April of 2001, Kelly and Coco were drafted in the first round. Kelly went to the Charlotte Sting as the sixth pick while Coco ended up with the Mystics in Washington, D.C. as the ninth overall pick. The dream had been realized. Coco and Kelly Miller were professional basketball players. Then came the hard part. Rookies have a lot to deal with in their first season. The elevated level of play, the lifestyle change, the travel, and the expectations are all part of the adjustment. Kelly and Coco had the added challenge of having to live apart from each other for the first time in their lives
Then there came the basketball side of things. That too, has been different. Coco and Kelly have been starters throughout their careers. It is hard for most rookies to log much playing time in any professional sport. That is especially the case in the WNBA where the relatively short, compact season makes every game a must win, leaves little time for practice and even less time for experimenting with rookies.
These "go-to" girls had to go to the end of the bench. Coco and Kelly have taken their apprenticeship in stride and their rookie season yielded personal stats that were as alike as the sisters themselves. They averaged between seven and nine minutes and around 2 points per game, hardly the gaudy numbers they have become accustomed to, but they are not at all discouraged. Kelly: "I just took last season as a learning experience. The competition is great and I love that." Coco: "It was tough. I would have liked more playing time but I learned a lot last year. It made me a better player."
Better players are something the WNBA has plenty of, a fact not lost on the Miller sisters. Kelly: "In the professional game the players are bigger and every player on the floor is good." Some of the women they are now playing with, and against, are players they considered heroes not too long ago. Mystic forward Chamique Holdsclaw, one of the leagues marquee players, has even offered guidance. Coco: "Last year Chamique took time to show me some things, little things. Playing with someone of her caliber definitely raises the level of my game." Kelly counts having to check Houston's Sheryl Swoopes as a highlight of her first season.
As far as their respective teams, Coco and the Mystics struggled to a 10-22 mark while in Charlotte, Kelly continued to win in 2001. Losing was yet another new experience for Coco: "It was difficult because I wanted to help the team but really wasn't given much of a chance to get in there and contribute." Kelly and the Sting managed to buzz all the way to the WNBA finals.
As for Coco and Kelly's parents, Marv and Kathy Miller, watching the girls play is no longer as simple as looking out the window at the driveway. They became accustomed to driving all over Minnesota and the country to watch their daughters play in AAU tournaments. They traveled to many of their college games as well, a task made easier when their daughters were on the same team. Kelly: "They try to get to as many as possible, but they have to catch most of them on ESPN." Fortunately, Charlotte and Washington are only six hours apart.
Having won a state title as high school sophomores, and reaching the NCAA Final Four as college sophomores, the Miller sisters are understandably optimistic about their sophomore season in the WNBA. They spent most of the off-season working out back home in Rochester and sharing a common goal for the 2002 season, more playing time.
Coco and Kelly Miller enjoyed and endured significant changes both on and off-the-court in 2001. Rookies no more, they can now begin to settle into careers in their chosen profession. Secure in the knowledge that no matter what lies ahead, at the ripe old age of 23, they have made what was once a truly impossible dream come true. Kelly: "Growing up we thought that after college we might be done because there was no professional league in the U.S. at the time. It was a dream of ours to play professionally so we are just having a great time right now." You go girls.