Playing the Game: Lessons from the experienced |

Playing the Game: Lessons from the experienced

When ‘what if’ turns into ‘this is why’

Did 2012 Steamboat Springs High School graduate Jake Miller make a mistake by opting to play basketball at the next level?

For a fleeting moment, even he admits he caught himself looking over his shoulder, thinking “What if?”

Miller had his pick of a number of Division I-caliber institutions as a Sailors senior, but he wasn’t going to play competitive NCAA basketball at any of them. He longed to continue his playing career, so he settled on Nebraska Wesleyan University, a private school located in the state’s capital.

He began on the Prairie Wolves’ junior varsity squad, but up until his junior season, he feared he’d never get a taste of high-level varsity ball. The JV unit practiced just as much and forfeited many social opportunities to keep up with the rigor of being a student-athlete, but the players never saw the court in the most meaningful minutes.

“It’s a commitment,” Miller said. “Especially on that JV team, you just don’t know if it will be worth it.”

And largely it wasn’t — that was until a new coach with a run-and-gun philosophy stepped in at Nebraska Wesleyan and decided he wanted an all-hustle bruiser like Miller to help out his up-tempo style.

Nebraska Wesleyan is the only school in the country that is dual-affiliated, meaning they play competitively in D-II and D-III as well as NAIA. Miller’s first game in a varsity uniform came Nov. 15 in a barn burner, a 132-118 loss to Central, where he chipped in 13 points and grabbed three rebounds off the bench.

Suddenly, years of wondering “What if?” were drowned out by “This is why.”

“There were times my freshman year I was second-guessing if I really wanted to play,” he said. “My dad (Jim Miller) said if I stick it out, it will be worth it. That was really cool.”

Don’t be discouraged by the sticker price

Just like being in the market for a new car, Steamboat Springs High School assistant basketball coach Jim Bronner said don’t be alarmed by a private college’s price tag.

You can talk a car salesman down, and by simply being a formidable student — and maybe even a student-athlete — the higher tuition costs at private universities can be reduced to a much more manageable number.

Bronner spent 35 years as a sports agent in the Major League Baseball market in Chicago. Since he and his wife moved to Steamboat Springs to settle down, he decided to help with the Sailors’ varsity basketball teams and has since served as one of the go-to figures in the program for prospective college athletes.

He’s seen kids make what he believes are mistakes in forcing their way into athletics at the next level, although he prefers to leave out names. More than anything, though, he encourages student-athletes to consider all choices, and that tuition and fees shouldn’t be as discouraging as the numbers suggest.

“If a school is interested in them, either academically or athletically, or both, there’s a tremendous amount of scholarship money available,” Bronner said. “There are kids from here going to some of those schools that are paying less than those enrolled in state schools.”

Carter Kounovsky at Lake Forest College is a prime example. His dad, Bart, is adamant that while D-III schools can’t recruit athletes with scholarship incentives, their “sticker price” can drop drastically once a student is accepted.

Lake Forest — a school with about 1,600 students — lists its 2014-15 tuition and fees at more than $41,000 for the full year. The Kounovskys are paying a fraction of that for Carter to study there.

“The sticker price at a lot of these schools is a lot higher than state schools,” Bart Kounovsky said. “But once you work through their academic program, it comes down to a manageable price.”

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