Coco Miller knows all too well what it’s like to have the game of basketball yanked away.
She sustained a torn ACL the summer after her junior year at JSerra 4 1/2 years ago, causing her to sit out until her senior season was nearly halfway over.
Miller felt that loss again at UC Santa Barbara, sitting out all of last season with another injury, but the redshirt junior point guard is back with the Gauchos and demonstrating she’s 100 percent again.
Miller played all 40 minutes in her second game back for Santa Barbara, scored 20 points in her fourth game, and then accomplished something she had done only once in her previous two seasons with the Gauchos, reaching double figures in points and rebounds in her sixth game.
Miller made five of her first six 3-point attempts before finishing with 22 points and 10 rebounds in a 62-56 win against Dartmouth on Nov. 25 in Las Vegas, the first victory of the season for Santa Barbara.
“It was a big day for Coco,” Santa Barbara coach Bonnie Henrickson told the team web site.
Miller’s presence this season is important in several ways for Santa Barbara.
She’s the only player who’s in her fourth year with the Gauchos, and the lone starter left over from the Santa Barbara team that lost by one point to Long Beach State in the championship game of the Big West Conference Tournament in 2017.
Transitioning from being one of the youngest contributors on the team to the most experienced has been a challenge for Miller, but she told KCSB that she’s ready for the new role.
“I like to say I embrace the challenge,” she said. “Lead the team by example and do the best I can.”
Miller had already become the all-time leading scorer at JSerra when she landed awkwardly while playing for her club team at the start of summer in 2014.
Upon hearing the news that she tore her ACL, Miller figured she’d be on the bench for her senior season, but then was given a window of hope. Doctors said if she stuck with her rehabilitation, she could return in six months.
Miller did just that, making her season debut in early January, just in time for the start of Trinity League play. She helped the Lions go 6-2 and finish second.
Miller made an immediate impact at Santa Barbara, starting a team-high 31 games as a freshman and finishing third on the team in scoring at nine points a game.
She was the only Santa Barbara player to start all 32 games as a sophomore, finishing fourth on the team in scoring (9.1) and second with 58 made 3-pointers.
Miller’s second injury was a big blow for Miller and the Gauchos, who went 9-7 in Big West play without her, but lost in the first round of the conference tournament.
Miller played in her first regular-season game in 18 months Nov. 6 at Utah Valley. She waited until late in the first quarter to take her first shot, but then drained a 3-pointer, just as she’d done a thousand times before.
“It was really hard sitting out all year, but I’m glad to be back and to contribute to the team as much as I can,” Miller said.