Malcolm Miller has had a basketball in his hands for as far back as his memory will take him. Basketball is a part of who he is, and he still loves it after all these years. Imagine how bad life would have to get for that to change.

For Miller, that moment came during his second year as a preferred walk-on playing for Dan Muller’s Illinois State University Redbirds. In August of 2020, Miller contracted coronavirus (COVID-19), and for the first time in his life as an athlete, he could not play the game he loves.

“I’d never had an injury or an illness that kept me from playing,” Miller said. “Being sick was a challenge. At times I wondered why I was even trying to play basketball, and I had never felt like that before.”

He did a lot of worrying and called that time an eye-opening experience. He missed the team and the game. He also found himself missing some of the more mundane parts of being an athlete at this level.  

“I even missed getting up early to lift weights,” he said. “Anything was better than feeling bad and laying around all the time.”

Having COVID was one thing, but Miller also experienced heart issues that extended his time on the sidelines. He was diagnosed with chronic inflammation and scarring of the heart possibly caused by the virus. It cost him an entire season starting in September of 2020 until March of 2021 when he got the OK from his doctors to play again.

“I’m now fully cleared to play,” said Miller, a redshirt sophomore who will have two years of eligibility remaining after this season.

His symptoms included chest tightness, shortness of breath, trouble sleeping, and he was lightheaded and tired. His doctors wanted him to keep his heart rate down, so there was no running allowed for staying in basketball shape. The biggest challenge has been conditioning and trying to get his body back to where it was. While staying at home on the couch took its toll, the layoff didn’t affect his shot, he said.

These days life is much more normal. He’s lifting and practicing and has seen action in two games this season for a total of 14 minutes. He’s grabbed a couple of rebounds and made the one shot he attempted. His feeling for basketball came back fast.

“I love being on the team,” Miller said. His positive attitude hasn’t gone unnoticed by the head coach.

“Malcolm is an awesome teammate, he’s very coachable, and he’s a great representative of our program and community,” Muller said.

A 6-4 shooting guard, Miller broke the scoring record at Shelbyville High School scoring 2,397 points, good enough for top 50 all-time in the state. An All-State selection, he averaged 27.4 points per game his senior year. With all the notoriety Miller generated during his prep career, how did he decide on Illinois State?

Both his parents, Clay ’96 and Jill Miller ’96, are alums, but that didn’t clinch the decision. His mother—the former Jill Cole in her playing days—was an Illinois State volleyball player, but she didn’t try to influence his choice.

“She stayed out of it really, and let me talk to who I wanted,” Miller said. “I chose ISU because it felt like a community here, and Bloomington-Normal really supports ISU basketball. The coaches here won me over because they believed in me. I really liked how Coach Muller presented himself and the program.”

Jill Cole Miller competing for the Redbird volleyball team.
Jill Cole Miller during her time competing for the Redbird volleyball team.

And, even though his mother let him make his own decision, she’s very happy about how things turned out.

“It’s hard to put into words how cool it was to see Malcolm in a Redbird uniform for the first time,” she said. “For him to be part of the Redbird family as a student-athlete makes me extremely proud. It’s so fun to watch him have some of the same experiences.”  

A business administration major, Miller is enjoying college life. He lives off campus with three teammates whom he appreciates not only for all being taller than him but also for hailing from places far from his Central Illinois roots. Antonio Reeves, 6-6, is from Chicago; Harouna Sissoko, 6-7, is from Africa; and Alex Kotov, 6-10, is from Russia.

“I was always the tallest in Shelbyville,” Miller said with a laugh.

Once college is done, he’s open to playing more basketball for the right opportunity. Eventually, he wants to go back home to his hometown. For now, he’s grateful to have bounced back and for the opportunity to keep playing.

“It makes you appreciate everything,” Miller said. “I love everything that comes with playing basketball here.”