Ranked No. 27 in the nation by one recruiting website, the 6-foot-4 forward is breaking school records and has the Chargers ranked No. 1 in the state heading into the season.
JaQuaya Miller looked like a natural. The 6-foot seventh-grader seemed athletic and anxious to get on the basketball court. Well, maybe anxious about getting out there was more accurate, since her mom was making her.
Sure enough, Miller breezed up and down the floor for layup after layup — never mind there was little dribbling involved, or that any of the layups actually went in.
“I was a hot mess,” Miller recalls of that debut, made with her cousin’s AAU team shortly after moving to the Renton area from California during the seventh-grade school year.
5 Teams to Watch
Kentridge: Defending Class 4A state champions are talented, deep and will be prepped for another run by a competitive schedule.
Eastlake: With Gina Marxen, the Wolves have the makings of a 4A state trophy team after falling short the last two seasons.
West Seattle: All but one player return for a squad that just might prove to be the toughest in the always-tough Metro League.
Archbishop Murphy: Emily Rodabaugh, reigning Cascade Conference MVP, is a key reason the Wildcats have high Class 2A aspirations.
Garfield: Bulldogs already had bite, then sharpened their attack with the addition of 6-foot-4 Dalayah Daniels from Rainier Beach.
5 Players to Watch
Gina Marxen, Eastlake (5-7, Sr., PG): Cerebral player, signed with Idaho, has great court vision and can pull the trigger on a deadly three-point shot
Jade Loville, Skyline (6-0, Sr., G): The athletic Loville (Boise State) can take over games, as witnessed by her recent back-to-back 40-point outbursts
Kylee Griffin, Lake Stevens (6-2, Sr., F): Versatile player (Gonzaga signee) is a major inside-outside threat with a never-ending motor that sets her apart.
Dalayah Daniels, Garfield (6-4, So., W/P): Daniels, moving over from Rainier Beach, is a matchup nightmare with great hands and a big upside.
Morgan Gary, Kentridge (5-9, Sr., G): Four-year starter (signed with Northern Arizona) is the unselfish floor-leader for defending 4A state champs.
Fast forward less than four years, and the 6-foot-4 Miller is one of the hottest recruits in the Class of 2019, a four-star player ranked No. 27 nationally by ProspectsNation.com. Her hard work and training helped her lead Kentridge High School to its first Class 4A state championship last season and had the Chargers ranked No. 1 in the state coming into this campaign, No. 24 nationally.
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“She’s an explosive athlete in the post,” said Chris Hansen, managing editor of ProspectsNation.com, who sits on panels to select McDonald’s All-Americans and the Naismith Trophy Award winners. “She has shown the signs of being a dominant rebounder and with her speed and agility, her advantage is only amplified in transition. There are very few bigs that can run with her nationally, which is bad news for the rest of 4A.”
And probably the best news is that Miller is a team-first player who would love to deflect attention as well as she blocks shots.
“She’s really humble,” said teammate and best friend Jordyn Jenkins, another rising star as a 6-1 sophomore. “She wants everybody to get the ball. She loves other people’s success more than hers.”
Miller’s late start is somewhat surprising since her father, 6-foot-8 Eddie Ja’Quay Miller, was a standout player at Washington State from 1998-2000 and coaches youth basketball in California. She was a daddy’s girl, even though her parents separated when she was young. She followed him to the gym and sat on the bench during games, but she didn’t pursue the game and wasn’t pushed.
“He was more like, do something else, like golf,” she said. “I just liked being around him.”
Eddie Miller said he knew she inevitably would hear the constant two questions he still does — how tall are you and do you play basketball?
“I understand the politics of it so I never wanted to force this (basketball) on her because it was my life,” said Miller, who is 6-8.
Mom, NaQueia Muse, brought JaQuaya (pronounced Ja-KWAY-ah) and two siblings to the area to be closer to family and was simply looking for a social outlet when she took her to that first tournament.
“We’d only been here maybe two weeks and everything was new; we didn’t know anybody,” NaQueia said.
JaQuaya reluctantly agreed to play on the visiting Spokane team with Devyn Muse (now a senior who plays at Gonzaga Prep), but it was opposing coach Joebie Ballena who was enthralled by her potential.
“She was really raw, but she had really good size and could move well,” he said.
JaQuaya began training with Ballena, whose daughter Daylini is now a sophomore guard for Kentridge.
“He helped me get it together,” she said.
She worked hard and progressed quickly.
“She’s one of the most coachable kids I’ve ever worked with and has a great attitude,” Ballena said.
Miller, also known for her great sense of humor, became a starter at Kentridge as a freshman and that summer was invited to play with the Tree of Hope’s elite team. Her national stock started to skyrocket. She broke several of the school’s sophomore records last year, including most points (365 in 31 games) and rebounds (283) and is on track to break the career rebounding record (634) this season.
With a list of scholarship offers from schools in the Pac-12 to Ohio State, Miller is easily the school’s biggest basketball recruit, but she’s rather not get into details.
“I just feel like I’m being cocky when I talk about it,” she said, noting she likely will make her college decision after next summer’s AAU circuit.
“I just don’t want to be that person that’s overconfident,” Miller said. “Some people will ask me, do I think I’m good? I’m not going to say, ‘Yeah, I’m good,’ but I’m also not going to say no. I’m just going to say I can get better.”
Which is one of the many things Kentridge coach Bob Sandall loves about her.
“I’ve never coached a kid who is as highly recruited as she is, and the fact that she’s so humble sticks out the most,” he said. “She gets way more satisfaction out of throwing the ball to her teammates, and she plays anywhere I ask her to. She doesn’t give any concern to how many points she gets.”
So much so that Sandall said he sometimes has to remind her to be a more aggressive scorer, which she’s also willing to do when needed. In the state-championship game against Glacier Peak, Miller put together 27 points and 17 rebounds, earning tournament MVP honors.
She remembers being almost awe-struck by the experience, never expecting to win a title in the group’s first trip to Tacoma. But now, the Chargers have a second crown in mind — even after a season-opening loss to No. 4 Bellarmine Prep of Tacoma last week, 62-61.
“We’re just going to have to work harder,” said Miller, who had 16 points and 13 rebounds in the game. “Teams are going to come for us.”
And JaQuaya Miller plans to be ready.