His junior college coach calls James Milliken a lot of things, but no one will ever hear Tommy DeSalme utter one phrase when describing the Creighton-bound guard.
“He's not a ball hog like a lot of junior college players,” said DeSalme, the coach at Cowley County (Kan.) Community College. “He's a great scorer of the ball, and he does it very efficiently.
“He's been a scorer since he was born, but he's not one of those guys that's out there looking to get his all the time. In fact, I had to beg and plead with him to shoot more.”
The 6-foot-2 Milliken signed with Creighton on Wednesday, picking the Bluejays over Texas Christian of the Big 12. Those two schools were the finalists among what DeSalme called a list of offers that “was through the roof.” Many of the schools courting Milliken had power-conference pedigrees.
In the final analysis, Milliken said, Creighton and TCU offered a lot of the same things that would have prepared him on and off the court. But the Bluejays also had a two-time first-team All-American in Doug McDermott.
“When Doug announced last week that he was coming back, that helped me with my decision,” Milliken said. “I got a chance to play with him on my recruiting trip, and I'm looking forward to playing with him next year.”
Milliken is originally from Siler City, N.C., where he averaged 29 points a game as a high school junior and 27 as a senior. In his first year at Cowley, Milliken averaged 17 points and was named the Jayhawk League freshman of the year.
He averaged 18.4 points, made 79 3-point baskets and shot 42.2 percent from beyond the arc as a sophomore while earning first-team all-conference and all-region honors. Jucorecruiting.com lists Milliken No. 39 on its list of junior college prospects.
He might be No. 1 in DeSalme's heart in terms of work ethic and dependability.
“He's as gifted an offensive player as I've had,” said DeSalme, who has been involved in collegiate coaching at a variety of levels for almost two decades. “As a freshman, we ran a ball-screen offense and James was our only scorer. We ran a lot of stuff for him, and he put us on his back and got us all the way to the region final.
“We got him more help this year. We switched to a motion offense, and James worked hard during the offseason to get it down. Then he flourished in it during the season.”
Milliken said Creighton's coaches predict he will make an immediate impact when he joins the program.
“They told me they expect me to play 25 to 30 minutes a game,” Milliken said, “and score the ball.”
He expects to do that in a variety of ways.
“I feel I'm a versatile player,” Milliken said. “I like to get to the rim, but I can pull up and shoot it. And I think I've become a lot better 3-point shooter since I've been here. If teams are playing to stop me from driving, I can knock down some 3-pointers.”
His two seasons at Cowley, Milliken said, have prepared him to make the step along with Creighton to the new Big East.
“It's allowed my game to mature,” he said. “It slowed me down. In high school, I was an attack-first player. College basketball is a lot faster game, but you have to slow yourself down. In order to play well, you can't get sped up.
“The other thing about junior college was it gave me time to work on my game. I could stay in the gym — we pretty much had 24-hour access to it.”
DeSalme chuckled when told of that comment.
“Our rule was as long as he had his off-the-court work done, James could call any time,” DeSalme said. “I opened up the gym a lot at 11 at night. We had a lot of late nights.
“The thing is, we never had an issue, on or off the court, with James. He's a flatline guy. His approach doesn't change if he's up 20 or down 20. He has a good mom and dad, and they raised him right.”
DeSalme said he expects Milliken to endear himself to Creighton fans once they see him on the court.
“His athleticism will make you sick,” DeSalme said. “A lot of guys, you have to try to teach them and drill them how to move without the ball. Not James. He has a gift from God, and that's one of the things that coach McDermott loved about him.”
Creighton coach Greg McDermott also likes that Milliken is coming from a winning program.
“His team won 45 games in his two seasons in Kansas,” McDermott said. “We feel that his basketball IQ and his character fit perfectly with our returning team as we head into the Big East.”
Milliken's signing does leave Creighton one player over the NCAA scholarship limit of 13. Creighton has until July to get down to the limit, and it's highly possible that one of the players already on scholarship will transfer.
If that does not happen, McDermott can pay for his son's educational expenses next season to free up a scholarship.
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