Paul Westhead was unhappy as a first-year WNBA coach while his tenure began with a two-month slump in 2006. At times he wore his unhappiness on his sleeve — as much as the reserved-natured coach does — but he had no problem preaching patience to the masses. Wait for Kelly Miller.
Miller tore her hamstring during the season opener and missed eight games. The Mercury scuffled along, unable to be the track team Westhead wanted.
Miller hadn’t missed a practice or game to injury since before high school.
“She’s never been injured,” said her twin sister, Coco, a guard for the Washington Mystics. ”It’s pretty amazing.”
Eventually she returned, the Mercury took off and haven’t been stopped (often) since.
Westhead may be the architect behind a record-breaking offense and whirlwind style, but Miller holds the key, not only because she has the ball more than anyone else, but her speed and deceptive athleticism seem to fit the mold Westhead wants sculpted.
Statistically, she returned to average career highs across the board last season. She’s averaging 10 points, four rebounds and four assists this season and is shooting 59 percent, but the assists (35) to turnovers (27) are too close for comfort.
Though the Mercury’s offense has been stuck in the mud during this three-game losing streak entering tonight’s game against Chicago, the struggles far exceed one player.
“I do take some responsibility,” she said. “What could I have done better?”
Private by nature, Miller’s never one to scold teammates or give a fiery pregame speech.
Other players — Diana Taurasi and Tangela Smith, for example — do most of the talking, while Miller controls the team, mostly on mute.
“Sometimes I wish I had that (voice),” Miller said. “I’ve gotten better at it, but (Taurasi) is already good at that stuff.”
Westhead’s first move as coach was to do a sign-and-trade with Indiana to acquire Miller for Anna DeForge. Westhead had seen enough on tape to know he could get his point guard for the present and future.
“Even if it didn’t happen, I’d have gotten her any which way we could have,” Westhead said.
Both Miller twins have been coveted players since they were knee high. Kelly was an All-American at Rochester Mayo High School in Minnesota, where she started as an eighth grader and won state championships.
The Millers were a package deal at the University of Georgia, where they were All-Americans.
The WNBA draft split up the twins for the first time their lives, a difficult adjustment for both. They still talk to each other two or three times per day.
They still play pickup games in the offseason, but it’s awkward.
“We don’t like to compete against each other; we don’t keep score,” Coco Miller said. “We’re very similar. We’re too intense and competitive — we’d get mad at each other.”
Miller, Penny Taylor, Kelly Schumacher and Tangela Smith have playoff experience on the roster.
Miller owned a house in the Valley before being traded here, and since the playoffs start in late August, she’d like to stay awhile.
“Being there and seeing the atmosphere, it’s where I want to go with this team,” she said. “We plan on getting there.”
BONUS SHOT: Taurasi underwent a precautionary MRI exam on her right leg following Wednesday’s practice. No other details about the exam were given by the team, but she is expected to play tonight.
Sky at Mercury
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: US Airways Center
TV/Radio: KMVP (860 AM)
Records: Sky 3-4, Mercury 4-4,
Outlook: Sky — Chicago has won two straight to reach .500 under new coach Bo Overton. Candice Dupree (18 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and Dominique Canty (14 ppg, 4 apg) have been the catalyst for Chicago of late. Last week, the Sky bolstered their front line when Chicago traded Monique Curry to Washington for center Chasity Melvin. Melvin has averaged 9.7 points and nine rebounds in three games with Chicago.
Mercury — Hard to imagine a 4-4 team is playing a must-win game in early June, but this one qualifies. The Mercury are in a three-game losing skid and face an uphill battle for the next 10 days (at Sacramento, at Washington, at Indiana), though for a change they should get some practice time in between. The team doesn’t have another home game until June 20.