Mr. Basketball of Illinois 2000 | East St. Louis' Darius Miles
East St. Louis' Darius Miles prior to the McDonald's All-American game in Boston at the Fleet Center in 2000. (CHRISTOPHER PFUHL / Chicago Tribune / March 31, 2000)
Even though 6-foot-8-inch Darius Miles is considered among the three best players in the nation, mom was convinced that Brett Melton of Mahomet-Seymour would win the Mr. Basketball of Illinois award.
"I told Darius he wouldn't win because Mr. Basketball would be somebody going to Illinois--like Brett--and he had signed with St. John's," Ethel Miles said. "Look at the last three winners. There's Brian Cook, Frank Williams, Sergio McClain--and all of them went to Illinois. If it wasn't Brett, I was sure it would be [Leo's] Andre Brown."
Darius bet his mom $25 that he would break the Illini stranglehold on the state's most prestigious individual award.
Miles and Brown were sitting together in a Boston hotel lobby earlier this week awaiting transportation to the McDonald's All-American Game slam-dunk contest when the East St. Louis senior received the good news.
Miles tilted his head and said: "For real?" When assured he was indeed Cook's successor, he smiled and began good-naturedly teasing Brown.
"My mom owes me $25," he said with a laugh. "I can't wait to tell her."
Miles and Ms. Basketball, Marshall junior Cappie Pondexter, will be honored at the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Dinner on April 29 at Illinois State.
Statewide balloting of coaches and media gave Miles a landslide. He received first-place votes on 217 of 369 ballots, while runner-up Eddy Curry of Thornwood attracted 34 first-place votes. Miles piled up 1,264 points to 366 for Curry.
In his three-year career, Miles led East St. Louis to the Class AA quarterfinals twice. The Flyers were third this season after Miles averaged 22 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocked shots a game while virtually playing all five positions.
A consensus of national talent scouts rated Miles, 6-9 Seton Hall recruit Eddie Griffin of Philadelphia and 6-6 Alabama signee Gerald Wallace of Childersburg, Ala., as the best prospects in the country.
After scoring 17 points and blocking four shots in the McDonald's game, Miles was surrounded by a national media inquiring if he would enter the NBA draft.
"My first priority is St. John's," said Miles, who has signed a letter of intent with coach Mike Jarvis' Big East power. "I need to improve my ACT score by one point to qualify for a scholarship. I am retaking the test in April. The NBA is still out there. If people in the league tell me I'm going to be a lottery pick, I'd probably enter the draft. I'll make a decision at the end of April."
Miles is an only child whose father, Gilbert White, never married Ethel Miles. Darius is a mama's boy raised in a loving but tough environment by his mom, grandma Elouise Miles, 70, and grandpa Willie Miles, 71. Ethel's nephew Adrian, 27, his son Ramonte, 8, and another nephew, Darrell, 13, also are part of the Miles household.
"I'm proud of where I come from, and I represent East St. Louis in everything I do," Miles said. "But it's not pretty where I live. There's a drug house across the street, and you see the crackheads coming and going all night long. You hear the shootings. I worry all the time that somebody is going to break into our house.
"Being the only child, I'm the only chance, the last chance my family has of moving out of East St. Louis. I want them to have all the good things in life that other people enjoy. If I enter the draft it's because all I ever think about is taking care of my family. Isn't that what it's all about?"
Ethel Miles has supported her family by driving a school bus for 15 years and thinks her son is taking on too big a burden.
"I work every day, so why would he say stuff like that," Ethel said. "He shouldn't have to feel that way. He should do what he wants and not enter the NBA just for the money."
New York-based talent scout Tom Konchalski believes entering the draft would be premature for Miles.