Last month, St. Mark’s High School announced that former Ursuline Academy and University of Delaware basketball standout Kayla Miller would be the next girls’ basketball head coach, taking over for John Fiorelli this winter.
The Hockessin Community News sat down with Miller to discuss her coaching passion, playing alongside Delaware native and star WNBA player Elena Delle Donne, and the benefits of earning a coaching job at 24 years of age.
Miller said the coaching bug bit her while she was playing for former Ursuline Academy head coach and three-time state champion Steve Johnson.
“Coaching has definitely been something I’ve been wanting to do,” said Miller. “I realized that this was a dream of mine when I was in eighth grade playing for Steve Johnson.”
Even though Miller has just one year as an assistant at the varsity level, she’s also been head coach of an eighth grade AAU team during the spring and summer.
“I enjoy coaching more than playing, surprisingly,” said Miller. “My number one goal in life is to make a difference and with coaching I feel that I am able to make a difference in young girl’s lives. I’ve played for all types of coaches and I love having the opportunity to not only help players succeed as basketball players, but succeed in life.”
During her time with Archmere Academy last year coaching as an assistant under Chris Zambito, Miller learned a lot and feels the time there has helped prepare her for patrolling the sidelines for the Spartans this winter.
“Coach Zambito is a great coach, I was able to learn a lot from him,” said Miller. “During that year with him, I was able to take away some defensive principles as well as some offensive ideas. Coach taught me the importance of being a good role model for the girls to look up to which helped me a lot.”
SUBHED: What did she learn from Elena Delle Donne?
As a player, Miller was able to compete alongside Elena Delle Donne at the high school and college level. Delle Donne is now an All-Star with the Chicago Sky of the WNBA, and the time spent with her on the court has helped how Miller sees the game both as a player then and a coach now.
“Playing with Elena has helped me look at the game a little more in depth,” Miller said. “As a point guard, I always had to make sure I knew what was going on with every player on the court and pay attention to the little things. I felt like a coach on the floor. Playing with someone as high caliber as Elena forced me to really think of creative ways to get her the ball. Teams would double and triple team her and I would need to think of ways for her to get the ball so she can score. Elena is very knowledgeable, and I tried to take advantage of every opportunity I had to learn more and more from her.”
While becoming a head coach has been something Miller has strived for, she’s excited the opportunity has presented itself so young in her career.
“Honestly, I did not know when I would finally get a head coaching job,” said Miller. “Am I excited that I was fortunate enough to get a head coaching job at 24? Yes, I’m extremely excited.”
Miller is happier still since the opportunity has come to coach at a school with such a rich tradition such as St. Mark’s.
“I’m grateful St. Mark’s chose me to be their next girls’ head coach,” said Miller. “Not only is it one of the top Catholic High Schools in the state, but there’s a winning tradition at the school and I believe the future is very bright at St. Mark’s.”
Even though there aren’t many 24 year olds out there with head coaching jobs, Miller believes her youth has its benefits when it comes to coaching high school kids.
“I think being young and having a head coaching job has many advantages,” Miller said. “Nowadays, there is a lot of time and effort that goes into coaching; scouting, going to clinics, having energy for working during the day and practice. Since I’m young and do have a lot of energy, I think that will help a lot.”
While her ability to outlast her coaching competitors may be an advantage for Miller, she stresses the importance of coach and player boundaries.
“I’m excited to work with high school athletes because I feel that I have a lot to offer them and I can relate to them,” said Miller. “The key to being 24 and working with high school athletes is making sure the players know you are the coach and not one of them. It’s important there is a good balance of discipline and fun for the players so they are able to learn and work hard.”