February 7, 2000
When Darius Miles visits an enemy gymnasium these days, what was once a routine Friday night high school basketball game quickly becomes part revival meeting, part Amway rally.
The Miles phenomenon blew into Alton with so much fanfare the game itself almost became an afterthought. The 6-foot-9 East St. Louis standout has attracted such attention in foreign ports this season, weeks of planning and added security are needed for one of his tour stops.
"It's a combination of worry and excitement," Alton assistant athletic director Mike Bellm said beforehand. "I'm looking forward to seeing him play, but I'll be glad when the night is over."
The interest in Miles began to escalate before the season when he was listed among the nation's leading prep prospects, ranking No. 1 on several lists at power and small forward. When he signed with St. John's in mid-November, but left the door open for a possible jump from high school to the NBA, his popularity threatened to reach that of a rock star.
After games, Miles often needs assistance to get to the locker room. Many fans also wait around for him to re-emerge from the locker room and swamp him on his way out of the gym or toward the team bus.
Bellm said security was doubled to "eight or 10" policemen. There was concern from Alton officials that when the remainder of the 2,100 available game tickets were sold there might be trouble outside the West Middle School gymnasium, site of Alton home games.
"The traffic was such a problem, the East St. Louis team bus had trouble getting in," said Alton athletic director Mike Brey, who is also the Redbirds coach.
There had been such a ticket demand for the game that Bellm said the school received a lot of calls from would-be purchasers wishing to buy a season ticket to assure they would have a seat. Bellm said Alton officials contacted several other schools that had hosted East St. Louis to see how they handled the situation. Bellm said East St. Louis athletic director Ted Daniels had been extremely cooperative in helping them plan for the event.
Miles handles life under a microscope quite calmly. "It's fun," Miles said. "I get to meet new people all the time." Miles also has fun with the crowd, which likes to harass him when he's at the foul line. Despite his many abilities, Miles has trouble shooting foul shots. He possesses textbook form, but the shots just won't drop. He's barely above 50 percent for the season.
Against Alton, Miles stopped in mid-free throw to stare at a group of fans who were yelling at him. He calmly put his right index finger to his lips and told them to "shhhh." Of course, they yelled even louder.
"I love the pressure," Miles said. "I love it when the fans are all against (us). We mess with them by waving at them and other stuff."
East St. Louis won the game, 63-47. And Miles? He scored 23 points, reeled in 19 rebounds and blocked 11 shots.
"It was an average game for me," he said.
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