By AUSTIN COLBERT
Talia Miller was always destined to become a basketball coach, at least in her eyes. She is the daughter of a coach, had a coach's mentality on the court when she played, injuries forcing her to the bench and into a mentor's role much sooner than planned.
And she wouldn't have it any other way.
"My dad was a coach so I knew I enjoyed coaching and being around the sport," Miller said. "That was something I thought might be an opportunity for me to do, but wasn't ever sure if I would get into it at the collegiate level. But it was definitely a dream of mine, so when it worked out it was awesome."
Miller is in her third season as the assistant coach for the Fort Hays State University women's basketball team. Originally from Tryon, Neb., located in the heart of the state, she graduated from McPherson County High School, which Miller said is "about as small as it gets in Nebraska."
Her father coached about everything at the high school, from volleyball to basketball and track, his daughter usually not far way, even from a young age.
"It was a small town so he kind of did everything, so I've always been involved ever since growing up," Miller said. "When I was little I was always at all of his practices. It's kind of been a natural thing for me to be a coach."
Miller turned into a star basketball player in the state, earning area player of the year honors as a senior.
Out of high school she signed with NAIA Hastings College in Nebraska, which at the time was led by FHSU women's basketball head coach Tony Hobson, who won three national titles at Hastings.
"When she was a senior she was one of the leading scorers in the state of Nebraska. A 5-10 off-guard that could really shoot. Just had an all-around game that was great," Hobson said. "Then the last game in their sub-state finals to go to the state tournament, right after half she tore her ACL. They went ahead and were able to hold on and win the game but she didn't get to play in the state tournament."
Miller had already signed with Hastings prior to tearing her anterior cruciate ligament, which unfortunately for her proved to be only a prelude of what was to come. She healed in time to join Hobson at Hastings the next season, but in a preseason scrimmage she was hurt again, this time tearing her other ACL and putting an end to her freshman year before ever seeing the court.
Following that season, Hobson accepted the head coaching position at Fort Hays, Miller deciding to transfer to FHSU with him for the 2008-09 school year. As a redshirt freshman with the Tigers, Miller started seven games for Hobson before her season ended when she tore her ACL for a third time. She was never the same again, her coaching career having begun without her even knowing.
"That following year I started playing a new role as someone off the bench. Didn't get a lot of minutes after that because it was after my third knee surgery and I just wasn't as strong as I used to be," Miller said. "In high school I was the star, I guess, on the team. And then going through that injury was hard, but it was something I worked through. Coming back from that and being someone that was healthy but not getting a lot of playing time was definitely a huge transition."
In the end Miller had a total of five surgeries on her knees, leading to her decision to quit playing basketball at the start of her senior season. While her days on the court as a player were over, there was no way she was going to leave the sport entirely. While she finished her undergraduate degree -- she graduated from FHSU in 2012 with a degree in health and human performance with an emphasis in teaching and coaching -- she remained with Hobson and the Tigers as a student assistant.
The plan from there was for Miller to become a graduate assistant the next season, but everything changed when Hobson's longtime assistant, Carrie Hofstetter, resigned to return to Hastings, this time as the team's head coach. That's when Hobson took the gamble and hired Miller as the team's full-time assistant coach despite having no real coaching background.
"The main thing I look for in an assistant at this point in my career is somebody that's loyal and somebody I can trust. I knew she had those two. She had no recruiting experience, she had no coaching experience, but I thought I had enough of both of those for both of us," Hobson said.
"Talia, she is just a good match for me as far as head coach and assistant," Hobson added. "She's like an older sister to some of the players. She isn't buddy-buddy with them, which you don't really want. And she isn't like completely cut off from them like basically I am. She relates to them in a different way, which is good."
Now in her third season as Hobson's assistant, it feels as if everything has worked out for the best. Having gone from star player to injured reserve, Miller understands what some of her players are going through, notably junior guards Taylor Chandler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury, and Beth Bohuslavsky, who had to sit out four games (including the entire MIAA Tournament) with her own knee injury.
While Miller would certainly entertain the idea of becoming a head coach one day, she has no designs on leaving Hobson's side anytime soon. She loves where she is and has enjoyed every second of the Tigers' run to its first MIAA regular-season title this season.
Reflecting on the past and all the injuries, pain and surgeries, Miller feels she is exactly where she is meant to be.
"It was really cool how it all worked out with my knee surgeries. They were not fun, but it ended up working out for the best," Miller said. "I know it was all a part of God's plan in preparation for where He has me now. I wouldn't be half the coach I am today if I hadn't gone through all of that. God was just preparing me to be able to relate to every one of my players on a personal level. I thank Him for it every day."