Like many successful cross country and track athletes, Kamari Miller first started running as a way to get in shape for a more “mainstream” sport – in his case, basketball.
Growing up in Marietta, Georgia – the hometown of some of the NBA’s most talented athletes – nothing seemed more important to Miller than a future in basketball. Even after finishing his seventh grade track season with a 5:25 personal best in the mile, Miller saw no other purpose for running than to improve his fitness for the court.
“I originally didn’t even want to be a distance runner,” says Miller, reflecting on his first season of spring track. “I wanted to be a sprinter or a middle distance guy, but my coach threw me in a mile just to see what I could do and I ended up running a 5:25. I didn’t know if it was good or not but I didn’t even really take it seriously enough to care.”
As Miller entered his eighth grade year his focus on basketball remained the same and so did his lack of care for track. “I started running a bit in the winter time,” says Miller, “but again just for basketball. I had no intention of doing it to be competitive in track.”
But as fate would have it, Miller’s unrealized potential in competitive distance running wouldn’t stay hidden much longer. After not making his school’s basketball team in October of his eighth grade year, Miller had nowhere else to turn than running.
Despite his disappointment, Miller knew he was in good enough shape to make the school’s track team and with no desire to spend the winter without a sport to compete in, he made the easy decision to show up in early November for the first day of track tryouts.
Miller would place first in the tryout – which consisted of a one mile time trial – even beating the team coach who was in the process of training for the Boston Marathon. Just like that, Miller solidified his spot on the team and was ready to begin his eighth grade campaign.
After spending the winter conditioning with the track team, Miller entered his spring season primed for a breakthrough… a breakthrough that would come in an event far from his favorite.
“The head distance coach decided to throw me in the 3200,” says Miller reflecting on the race, “and I was going against some of the best middle schoolers in the country at the time. Justin Wachtel – who’s now a good friend of mine, he runs for Virginia – was seeded first and I was seeded last. But I’m a competitor. I'm always going to put myself out there to where I have a chance to win because you never know what could happen. So my coach was just like ‘you're going to stick on the number one seed and you’re just going to hang on and if you're still there with two laps to go, I want you to kick as hard as you can.’”
After placing third in the race with a time of 10:47, Miller’s talent in distance running was no longer a secret. “I’m sorry to say it but you have a lot more potential in track than you do in basketball.” Miller’s coach told him after that race. And as the future would tell, his coach was right.
From there his success continued, eventually leading him to personal bests of 15:37 in the 5k, 9:08 in the 3200 meter, 4:15 in the mile and 1:57 in the 800 meter by the end of his sophomore year.
It didn’t take long for Division I colleges from across the country to come calling as Miller’s sophomore season came to a close but with all this new attention, Miller was far from complacent. “Colleges started recruiting me and my mindset was ‘okay, there’s a lot more eyes on me.’” Miller says. “‘I have to be consistent. If I don’t run fast am I still going to get recruited? Am I still going to go to college?’”
Unfortunately, Miller’s fears of his recruitment’s fragility were realized as he entered his junior year. With only a two-second improvement in his cross country 5k time and an international pandemic shutting down the outdoor track season, Miller found himself with an empty mailbox and an empty race calendar.
At this point, Miller decided there was only one thing to do: train. “The summer going into my senior year I told myself ‘this is going to be the season where I make a name for myself. I’m going to put myself on the national board and I’m going to make sure everyone knows I’m the real deal” says Miller. “I just trained my butt off. I mean everything; bands, core, lifting, two a days. You name it. I was all in.”
Miller entered his senior year ready to prove himself and that’s just what he did. After running under 15 minutes in the 5k, placing first at the Coach Wood Invitational, taking 5th at the Running Lane Cross Country Championships, and winning the 7A Georgia state title, Miller was named Georgia’s 2020-21 cross country Gatorade player of the year. Then, in his final outdoor season, Miller lowered his personal bests to 4:09 in the mile and 8:54 in the 3200.
As the recruitment letters began to flood back in, Miller's commitment remained an easy decision. “I had been talking to Syracuse since my sophomore summer. That was the only school that was really consistent. They were with me through the good and the bad. So I committed to ‘Cuse in the fall the week after my first break out cross country race and, like I said, they’ve just been with me through the good, the bad, the ugly. The entire coaching staff is just amazing.”
Miller is now preparing for his freshman indoor track season at the University Syracuse and is determined to continue progressing. “I just want to go out and shock some people and even shock myself. I just want to see how fast I can run leading into Pan Ams for cross.”
2022 will be a big year for Miller, and as he stands on the other end of an outstanding highschool career, he has one critical basketball tryout to thank.
A big thank you to our sponsor this edition, Runner Coffee! Visit their site runnercoffeeco.com and use code Theoval15 for 15% off