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Historical perspective: High school days spent as gym rat

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Sam Alford, a Johnson County resident, coached new Butler coach Brandon Miller at New Castle High School. FILE PHOTO
Sam Alford, a Johnson County resident, coached new Butler coach Brandon Miller at New Castle High School. FILE PHOTO

When it comes to gym rats, those basketball players willing to perform in front of empty bleachers in the pursuit of improvement, let’s just say Sam Alford knows a thing or five.

Twenty seasons as boys basketball coach at New Castle High School allowed Alford to marvel at the work put in by, among others, 1983 Indiana Mr. Basketball Steve Alford and 1986 All-Star Rodney Haynes.

A decade later, Brandon Miller carried on the tradition.

Miller was a scrappy backup freshman point guard on Alford’s final team. Those 1994-95 Trojans advanced to the championship game of the Hinkle Semistate before losing to Ben Davis, 65-60, to finish the season 24-3.

In Miller’s four varsity seasons (1994-98), New Castle produced a record of 84-16 with three consecutive semistate appearances during Miller’s freshman, sophomore and junior seasons.

Alford is understandably proud of Miller, who has gone on to become the new men’s basketball coach at Butler University. The two have known one another since Miller was an infant.

“Butler is getting a very dedicated man, a dedicated family man and a dedicated basketball coach,” said Alford, a Franklin College graduate who lives near Franklin with his wife, Sharan. “Brandon will succeed. I don’t have any questions about that.”

Just as recent Bulldogs mentors Barry Collier, Thad Matta, Todd Lickliter and Brad Stevens applied their own stamp to Butler basketball, so, too, will Miller.

“Brandon will be his own man, and that’s what a coach has to do,” said Alford, whose 29-year run as coach at the prep level (1966-95) netted 452 victories and a place in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. “He has to instill his own philosophy and style.”

Miller’s father, Roger, was an assistant coach every season during Alford’s two decades in New Castle, the first being three years before Brandon was born. Thus, the coach was able to observe the coach-in-making long before the rest of us.

“Brandon was a gym rat. He loved basketball, and he loved being in the gym,” Alford recalled. “He was always the first one to get in the gym and the last one to leave, sometimes to the point where we had to tell him to leave. He’s very competitive and did not like to lose.”

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