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Neumann-Goretti's Miller the 'Philly guard' Temple needed

09/03/2020, 3:15pm EDT
By Josh Verlin

Hysier "Fabb" Miller (above) is the first Temple commit from a Philadelphia high school in more than a decade. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

When Temple head coach Aaron McKie took over at his alma mater before the 2019-20 season, one of the biggest questions about the former Gratz standout and longtime NBA player was how long it would take him to bring some local kids into the program, to get that often-talked-about ‘Philly toughness’ back in the Owls’ core.

The answer, as it turns out, was exactly one year: and in Hysier “Fabb” Miller, McKie might just have gotten the program-changer he needs. 

“Most of the time Temple’s been really successful, there’s been guys like me,” the Neumann-Goretti senior said by phone Wednesday morning. “Tough, hard-nosed guards that come in there and try to change the culture –– and not even change it, get the culture back to where it was.”

Miller’s commitment to the Owls in early August was McKie’s second for the Class of 2021, along with prepping South Miami (Fla.) center Brandon Sanders. 

And though he didn’t have a laundry list of offers or a bunch of stars by his name on the scouting services, don’t let that fool you. He certainly has the requisite resumé of that prototypical Philly guard, and there’s quite a bit to him that hints that the Owls got themselves quite an underrated talent.

Miller grew up in South Philadelphia, calling the Wilson Park housing projects at 25th and Jackson home for most of his childhood. He spent his first two years of high school at Martin Luther King, commuting more than an hour by bus each way for the opportunity to learn from Cougars coach Sean Colson, another such Philly guard, in the Philadelphia Public League’s unrelenting, 94-feet style of play.

“Everybody in the Pub is just hungry and they want more, and everybody’s playing hard,” the 6-foot-2, 185-pound guard said. “Nobody’s just coming down the lane and getting easy layups, they’re going to foul you, they’re going to make it hard on you. I don’t think any team in the Catholic League is like that, but the Pub molded me to have that.”

At Neumann-Goretti, Miller joined a team that already had three Division I-bound seniors in Jordan Hall (St. Joe’s), Hakim Byrd (Marist) and Cameron Young (Bowling Green), plus injured transfer Che Evans (San Diego State), whose family had moved up from Maryland that summer. Despite coming off the bench early in the season, he wound up leading the Catholic League champions in scoring (15.2 ppg) and earning second team All-Catholic League honors.

In his debut season with the Saints, Miller proved he could shoot with accuracy (39% from 3-point range); run the point, or play off the ball alongside Byrd and Hall; and continue to defend at a high level, even against other Division I prospects. Neumann-Goretti was already tough; Miller undoubtedly made them tougher.

“I knew they didn’t have anybody like me on their team,” he said. “A lot of people on the team, they’re my good friends, but they don’t come from where I come from, they don’t have the hunger; the way I approach the game, nobody approaches the game like me. 

“Because the game does so much for me that I can’t explain –– all I can do is thank God for what the game has done for me.”

Miller (0) was known as one of the toughest defensive guards in the city even before he got to Neumann-Goretti, where he further cemented that reputation. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

Division I schools took notice quickly, first in pre-season workouts and then when Miller started producing in games. Rider became his first offer three games into the 2019-20 season, followed in the early parts of 2020 by Wagner, Drexel and Hofstra, with many other mid-to-high-majors (including Temple) getting involved at that point.

Then the pandemic hit. Instead of playing on the Nike EYBL circuit with Team Final, where dozens upon dozens of coaches would be watching every single game, Miller like the rest of the 2021 class was relegated to sending out game film and having Zoom meetings with coaches. Penn State, Temple and East Carolina all offered during the off months, but that was it.

“I actually kidded around with [Temple assistant] Chris Clark and Aaron McKie,” Neumann-Goretti coach Carl Arrigale said. “[I said] ‘you should be glad for all this COVID stuff cancelling the spring and the summer, because it wouldn’t have been as easy. You would have had a lot more competition.’”

For a couple years, Miller passed Temple University almost every day, but he never took it that seriously.

When he was a freshman and sophomore at King, the daily bus commute from his home in South Philly all the way up to West Oak Lane took him all the way up Broad Street, right past the Liacouras Center and the other Temple buildings which line several blocks of the city’s main north/south thoroughfare.

But Miller never saw himself going to Temple –– growing up in Wilson Park and watching Duke on ESPN, he dreamed of playing for Coach K. Even when his childhood Division I basketball dreams started becoming more and more realistic, it still wasn’t an option in his mind.

“If you had asked me six months ago, ‘would you go to Temple?,’ I probably would say no,” Miller admitted. “But that’s why I always listen to people, I never judge a book by it’s cover.”

It’s clear that it was the relationships with McKie and Clark –– a fifth-year assistant who graduated from St. Joe’s Prep in 2004 and played in 101 games at Temple the next four years –– that were most important to Miller. 

“The way Temple recruited me, they did a great job,” he said. “They made me feel comfortable, and they didn’t overwhelm me, didn’t put too much pressure on me. They gave me my time, my space.

“They didn’t just try to hurry to make a decision, they were okay with my timetable, they were okay with getting to know me, all the types of things you need to make a 17-year-old comfortable, that you know they want to spend the next four years of their life with you.”

While at a Hoop Group camp at East Stroudsburg a few weeks after Temple offered, it finally clicked for Miller that those relationships they’d been building over the previous six months had reached a different level.

“I was walking to my room, and Coach McKie called me and we were just talking, and the conversation we had, it wasn’t a deep conversation, just a regular conversation, but the way he was talking to me, I just felt like it was just a different feel after that conversation,” he said. “After that day, I was really strong about it, and I was comfortable... it was just a good feeling, I had no doubts in my mind that coach Clark and coach McKie could better me and everybody in the program could help me become a better person.”

When he arrives on campus next fall, Miller will be the first product of a Philadelphia high school on a hoops scholarship at Temple since Jesse Morgan (Olney), a UMass transfer who graduated in 2015. No Philly HS product has come directly to Temple since Scootie Randall (Comm. Tech) arrived in 2008, a year after Ramone Moore (Southern).

There have been other Philly natives, such Shizz Alston Jr. (Haverford School), Jaylen Bond (Plymouth-Whitemarsh) and Devin Coleman (Friends’ Central), to wear cherry and white in recent years, but none who did their high school years within city limits.

Arrigale, who just finished his 20th season as head coach with the Saints, has seen nearly two dozen Division I ballplayers come through his roster over the years, including players who went to Villanova (Tony Chennault), La Salle (Tyreek Duren), St. Joe’s (Lamarr Kimble) and Drexel (Troy Harper). Miller will be the first he’ll send to Temple.

“He’s going to be one of those guys that guys gravitate to...he’s one of those guys that’s almost like an instant leader,” Arrigale said. “Once he got comfortable at our place [...] he ended up being a steady influence on that whole group.”

Aaron McKie (above) went 14-17 in his first year as Temple's head coach. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

McKie’s goal is to try to guide Temple back to its golden era of the 80s and 90s, when the Owls were perennial NCAA Tournament competitors, making the Elite 8 in 1993, ‘99 and ‘01. They went 14-17 (6-12 American Athletic Conference) in his first season with mostly holdovers from a Fran Dunphy era which saw eight NCAA trips in 13 years but no further than the Round of 32. 

The roster rebuild has already begun, with four McKie-recruited freshmen in 2020, the most local of which was Wildwood Catholic (N.J.) wing Jahlil White. And while it’s true that Temple doesn’t necessarily need Philly kids to be successful, it’s certainly the area school whose identity is most deeply tied to the city itself, accessible to all corners and reaches of the 215 area code. 

For McKie and Clark, not to mention fellow locals and assistant coaches Monté Ross and Jimmy Fenerty, getting Temple back to the limelight is about as personal as it can get. They need players who feel the same way. In Fabb Miller, they just might have it. 

“Who wouldn’t want to go to a staple school in their own city and be the guy here?” Miller asked. “Who wouldn’t want to be the guy to make their mark on the city? If I can go to Temple and help them reach the tournament a few years, I can sleep with that, you know? 

“I can’t sleep with losing on my conscience.”

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