It is ironic that one of Jon Miller’s favorite moments for the McGregor Mercs was one of the most unfavorable moments for Aitkin Gobbler basketball fans.
It was a March evening in 1992 and the two teams – coached by legendary coaches Greg Hills and John Hadrich – were dueling it out for the MSHSL Sub-Section championship in Section 7.
McGregor had finished the regular season as the Polar League Champs, and were hoping to finally give Hadrich his first trip to the section tournament.
The Gobblers were attempting to stake their claim as Aitkin County’s best after reaching another title game. The Mercs won this one going away, after a great effort by both teams, and Miller remembers it well,.
“It was a great game,” he said. “We knew everybody on their team and knew we would have to put together a great game, and we did.
“When we all get together at deer camp, we still talk about it nearly 30 years later,” he added. “That season gave Coach Hadrich his 200th coaching win, beating Chisholm.”
Miller was a standout athlete at McGregor and loved his experience as a Merc.
“It was such a valuable experience,” Miller said. “We had 24 kids in my graduating class, and everybody knew everybody. We played together day and night trying to get better.
“Basketball was a year-round sport for us even during the other seasons,” he added. “We knew we had something special.”
Miller grew up in Lawler, where his parents still live.
“Being from a small town where we played every sport, it made me who I am today,” he said.
College was next for Miller and he attended Central Lakes College for two years, playing basketball and scoring over 1,000 points in his career while being a mainstay for the Raiders.
He then went on to the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where he had a couple of good years before hurting his shoulder. After rehabbing, he injured it again and really was never able to come back to the level he wanted to be.
Now, Miller is the second-year head coach of the Prior Lake Lakers in the Twin Cities, a 180-degree change from where he grew up.
“I have taught at Shakopee for 17 years and had a number of coaching positions, but when the head coach left I wasn’t hired,” he said. “I started asking around and I ended up getting an assistant job at Prior Lake and later was named to the head coaching position.”
When asked about the ups and downs of coaching at a big school he was quick to reply.
“The worst day of the year for me is cut day,” he said. “I have kids that I have to cut that would probably be starters on many smaller school teams. We have upward of 750 kids in each class and I tell my students here that that is bigger than our whole school where I grew up.
“Some of them have a hard time believing that because they have only lived in the larger market,” he added. “I have coached kids who went on to play NCAA basketball and I’m pretty proud of them and how we’ve helped them reach that level.”
Miller has seen success at every level in his life so far and has a pretty easy formula.
“I had some great role models in John Hadrich, Steve Cummings and John Stifter, who taught me to be on time, show people that you care, outwork your opponent and that means on the court or in school, it’s amazing what you can achieve.”