Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 43
Local Air Force vet Jacari Miller plays in college, thanks to new GI Bill
BY KRISTINA SEWELL
For Jacari Miller, basketball has always been a way to relax and unwind. A member of the U.S. Air Force, Miller played basketball overseas and participated in several tournaments.
“Basketball has always been an escape route for me when I am stressed or need to get away,” Miller said. “It clears your mind so that nothing else matters on the court.”
Basketball also helped Miller take his mind off of his family, which was in Florida while he was stationed in California. Though he still misses home, a phone call usually puts his mind at ease.
“Sometimes it gets rough and I get homesick,” Miller said. “I love my family and am definitely a family man.”
He said even though he was very involved with basketball, he knew early on that he wanted to join the Air Force. The veteran said he kept the basketball option available.
Originally from Lake Wales, Fla., Miller spent six years in the Air Force, with the tail end of his service taking place at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc. While there, Miller got in touch with Shermon Vernon, a coach and trainer.
“He always pushed me on and off the court. I learned a lot from him,” Miller said. “On the court he taught me to work on my weakness while trying to master the abilities I am strong in.”
During his time playing at Vandenberg, Miller caught the eye of the head basketball coach at Biola University, and he ultimately decided to pursue a career in law enforcement in Southern California. He hopes to eventually work as a police officer or with a government agency. This opportunity was made more possible for the local veteran through the generosity of a new scholarship geared toward military veterans.
The post-9/11 G.I. Bill provides educational benefits to those who were on tour for 90 days, including tuition coverage and a monthly living stipend. However, it doesn’t provide full benefits for students attending private universities. But thanks to funds provided by the Ahmanson Foundation, Miller was able to attend Biola without financial strain.
Announced last year, the new scholarships provided grants totaling $1.25 million to recruit and retain veterans at 25 private colleges in California. For Miller, this scholarship helps cover what the G.I. Bill doesn’t. The veteran added that one of his friends is also planning to pursue his education using the Ahmanson scholarship funds.
“I’m extremely grateful for this scholarship because it helps me cover the cost of some books and supplies needed for school,” Miller said.
So far, the 6-foot-3 sophomore guard is enjoying his experience as a Biola Eagle. The team is currently 8-5 overall, and Miller is shooting .333 percent from the free throw line. For now, Miller is keeping his goals simple.
“Right now my goals are just to get better each day. It has been a while since I was in this kind of basketball setting,” he said. “I want to help the team in any way I can.”
Miller is pleased with his team’s performance and said that each practice they are working to get better on defense. The team also practices six days a week and lifts weights three times a week. To be a college basketball player, Miller said one has to be tough, work hard, and stay dedicated. For the long-time basketball veteran, ball-handling skills and stamina are equally important.
“I need to be able to run up and down the floor with no problem and be able to handle the basketball to get an open shot at the basket,” he said.
The guard said he is enjoying the supportive community at Biola, and that basketball has taught him that hard work is what gets you over “the hump.” At the end of the road, Miller said he looks forward to handing his degree to his mother with a big hug. The veteran, who someday plans to coach youth basketball, said fear of failure motivates him the most.
“I just look forward to growing as a player and doing what I can to help each person on the team on and off the court,” he said, “learning from the guys and coaches who have been there to become a better player and teammate.”
Staff Writer Kristina Sewell says, “Hoop! There it is!” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.