By Matt Sugam
PISCATAWAY – If it weren’t for each other, neither Dane Miller or Austin Johnson would have finished their careers at Rutgers. In fact, if it weren’t for Johnson, Miller may have never stepped foot on the Banks.
After committing early on in his junior year, Miller was going to decommit, until Johnson showed up at one of his AAU games.
“Austin’s probably one of the main reasons I stayed to my commitment,” Miller said, adding, “We were playing in the same tournament. I felt like that was big for a guy that you never met to come to one of your games. Especially if you’re playing in two different buildings. My game was like 25 minutes away from his, so for him to come to one of my AAU games was big.”
Miller reciprocated after their freshman year at Rutgers, when their head coach Fred Hill was fired. While many other players opted to transfer, the two stuck it out together.
The reason for doing so was simple.
“Our loyalty to the program,” Johnson said. “It was an emotional roller coaster to say the least and Dane was a big reason why I decided to stay.”
And no one would have blamed Miller for leaving.
He was coming off a freshman year where he finished second in the Big East Rookie of the Year voting behind Lance Stephenson. With three years of eligibility left, Miller could have played out his collegiate career elsewhere.
He could have found a program on more stable ground. A place that was a proven winner rather then regularly rebuilding.
“There’s plenty of times I could have given up and walked away,” Miller said. “But I wanted to die a Scarlet Knight.”
And now, he and Johnson will do just that.
The two will be honored on senior night tonight against Marquette. They’ll both graduate in the spring. Two moments that solidify their journey together.
A path that has been arduous at times. Something their head coach is well aware of.
“Usually if it’s the end and the beginning, those are tough times because one is you haven’t won enough and you’re going to make a change,” Rice said. “And the other one, you were building.”
In turn, things didn’t go as planned. They lost the head coach they came to play for to help bring Rutgers back to prominence. And after Hill’s firing they watched the program continue to crumble around them as Rice came in to rebuild.
While Johnson and Miller weren’t able to bring the program as far as they wanted to in their senior year, they feel like they are a pair of the building blocks to the programs future under Rice.
“I feel that even if we weren’t as successful as we envisioned coming out of high school,” Johnson said. “It helped to construct a foundation for years to come.”
Which is why Rice cannot thank them enough.
“They stuck with it,” Rice said. “During the coaching change they chose to be at Rutgers and so I’ll always be indebted to them for staying and becoming Rutgers graduates.
“They’re Rutgers people through and through. They could have went to so called greener pastures, but they chose to stay and they’ll have a big place as far as I’m concerned in Rutgers basketball.”