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Mitchell native Miller proud of Classic's growth

Memphis Grizzlies player and Mitchell native Mike Miller talks to fans during the Second Annual Mike Miller Classic in 2011 at the Corn Palace in Mitchell. Miller is not attending the event this year. (Daily Republic file photo)

Mitchell is a holiday destination for some of the best high school basketball players in the country.

Top teams, including USA Today’s No. 1 Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.), will be at the Corn Palace for the Mike Miller Classic, which begins today. Now in its fourth year, the event has grown into a nationally respected showcase of top high school talent.

“You have expectations whenever you start anything and you always think big,” Mitchell native and guard/forward for the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies Mike Miller said in a phone interview with The Daily Republic from Houston where the Grizzlies played Thursday. “It’s been a growing period and has been better than we could have imagined. It’s a great opportunity to allow the people of Mitchell the chance to see some of the best high school basketball teams in the country.”

Miller will not be attending this year’s event as the Grizzlies are in the middle of their season. He expressed his disappointment in not being able to attend this year’s classic.

“Of course I would like to be there, but Ernie (Kuyper) and others have done a great job of putting the classic together,” Miller added. “Fans are going to get to see South Dakota teams go up against some great competition.”

Kuyper and Miller were teammates on the Mitchell High School boys’ basketball team in the late 1990s. Kuyper is the president of the Mike Miller Foundation and has been the man in charge of building the Mike Miller Classic into what it has become.

The Mike Miller Classic tips off today with five games at the Corn Palace, as Sioux Falls O’Gorman takes on Patrick Henry (Minneapolis) in the opening contest at 3 p.m.

Miller, 33, said he expects the growth of the event to continue in the future.

“We continue to get top-10 teams to come back to Mitchell, South Dakota,” Miller said. “Teams get a chance to play against great competition. We have bigger and better expectations for it now than we did when we started.”

The Mike Miller name brings NBA credibility to the event, but the venue it is held in adds another dimension.

“The Corn Palace speaks for itself,” said Miller, who played for former Kernel coach Gary Munsen from 1994-98.

The atmosphere of South Dakota basketball and the Corn Palace is unique in Miller’s eyes. He noted that many areas of the country don’t have the fan support he got to experience when playing for the Kernels.

“We were very fortunate growing up in South Dakota, to be a part of a place where fans are selling out arenas and selling out gyms,” Miller said. “In a lot of places around the country, it’s not like that.”