September 20, 2023

Brandon Miller and Nick Smith Jr. reunite as teammates in Charlotte after dominating the AAU competition

LAS VEGAS — The Charlotte Hornets unveiled their first surprise of the NBA Draft on June 22 when they selected Brandon Miller over Scoot Henderson with the No. 2 overall pick. Neither Miller nor Henderson had any idea which way the organization would lean on draft night, even with both looking forward to a final practice and meeting on the Monday before the draft. A relieved and excited Miller spoke positively about joining the team and looked forward to playing with his new teammates.

“LaMelos [Ball] a great passer and his style of play and IQ is elite,” Miller told Yahoo Sports on draft night. “I feel like I can support him by only getting shots in difficult moments. I’m really looking forward to going to Charlotte and getting to know all the other players as well.”

Little did Miller know that just 25 picks later he would be reunited with an old AAU teammate and someone he has played with and against since they were both 13 years old. With the 27th overall pick, the Hornets selected Nick Smith Jr. from Arkansas. The duo previously played for Brad Beal Elite on Nike’s high school EYBL circuit and were one of the most dynamic backcourt combinations in AAU basketball in the summer of 2021.

“We were really peaking at the right time during Peach Jam,” Smith Jr. said. to Yahoo Sports. “We both played at a high level, for NBA scouts, with Brad Beal coaching us from the sidelines. I don’t think many people would have seen that kind of play between a guard and with Brandon next to me with his height and the way he the ball shoots. I like playing with him.”

With all that travel entails and the stress of not knowing where a player will land, it took some time for Smith Jr. realized that he and Miller would be teammates in Charlotte.

“I didn’t immediately realize we were going to be teammates again, to be honest,” said Smith Jr. smiling. “So much happens on draft night and it wasn’t until I was doing all the media in the back that I stopped and realized that me and Brandon were on the same team.”

Miller said, “I was excited that we would be working together again. I just know how hard he works and to achieve this dream, I look forward to playing with him.”

Their former AAU coach and now future opponent, playing for the Phoenix Suns this year, Bradley Beal was happy to see both of his former players fulfill their dreams and become teammates at the NBA level.

“I’m certainly proud of them,” Beal told Yahoo Sports during Nike’s Peach Jam. “I’m proud of all our guys from our program, but those two playing together again will be fun to watch.”

Charlotte Hornets guard Nick Smith Jr.  and forward Brandon Miller are teammates again after both were selected in the first round of the 2023 NBA Draft. (Darren Yamashita/USA TODAY Sports)

Charlotte Hornets guard Nick Smith Jr. and forward Brandon Miller are teammates again after both were selected in the first round of the 2023 NBA Draft. (Darren Yamashita/USA TODAY Sports)

Miller played his only college season at Alabama, while Smith Jr. 700 miles away in Arkansas. Both players have endured their fair share of battles, on and off the field, with Smith Jr. sidelined most of the season with a minor knee injury. Miller was involved in an off-campus incident that resulted in the death of Jamea Harris.

On February 24, Arkansas traveled to No. 2 ranked Alabama, marking the first time Miller and Smith Jr. going head-to-head on the college stage (Smith Jr. was injured during the first game on January 11). Both Miller and Smith Jr. finished with 24 and six rebounds each, as Alabama won 86–83 at home. Even at the loss, it was Smith Jr. who waited in the tunnel for Miller, who wanted to catch up after the game.

“We’ve been through a lot this past college season for both of us, so I’ll always check on my guys,” said Smith Jr. “Did I want that win? Absolutely, but we are always going to make it up and then catch up.”

Both players admitted to struggling on the field early in practice after coming from different college systems, but they are slowly adjusting. The Hornets have a lot of guards on their Summer League team, but not necessarily a true floor general as they will. have in Ball this coming season. It was frustrating at times, but both players are learning to play through it.

“Right now we’re trying to figure out how to play together and play as a team,” Miller said. “The most important thing for us is just building as a whole group.”

The Hornets are 0-4 during the Las Vegas Summer League after losing to the New Orleans Pelicans, 89-83, Thursday night. Miller averaged 17.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in three games before being eliminated, while Smith Jr. averaged 15 points, four rebounds and three assists in 26 minutes. The Hornets face the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday at 2PM ET.

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