Very few obstacles have gotten in the way of Bryce Miller’s basketball career at Pacific Lutheran University.
When bigger post players around the Northwest Conference have tried getting in their elbows and forearms on the undersized 6-foot-6 Lutes center, Miller has had no issues delivering the final blow.
Though a tad slower and not as athletic as his opponents, Miller’s technical skill, knowledge and will power have given the Lutes their most reliable inside scorer in years.
And as the Fife High School product goes into his final weekend homestand starting Friday, the senior is having his best season: 13.2 points and 8.8 rebounds per game while shooting 53.5 percent from the floor.
“In terms of everything, he has been the model player this year,” PLU coach Steve Dickerson said. “We can count on almost a double-double every night.”
So what will go down as Miller’s most annoying career rival?
“Immense pain,” he said.
Shingles is a skin rash, which usually appears in a strip on one side of the face or body. It is caused by the same virus linked to chicken pox — the varicella zoster virus.
Of the 1 million cases reported in the United States every year, more than half are with people ages 60 and older.
In Miller’s case, it happened in November of his junior season. It started with discomfort in his stomach.
“I thought I tore something or strained an oblique,” Miller said.
For a week, he tried playing through it. But when “weird little bumps” broke out on one side of his belly button, he got a little worried.
Team athletic trainers first thought Miller might have impetigo, a common skin infection caused by detergents.
Then the rash spread from the middle of his stomach to the middle of his back — with big, milky blisters.
“The pain was so severe, if I touched it, or a piece of clothing touched it, the blister would pop, and puss would ooze out,” Miller said.
After a talk with his grandmother, Anne, who used to be a nurse practitioner, the two figured out it might be shingles.
“I found out my dad (Mark, a two-sport athlete) had it when he was at PLU,” Miller said. “And grandma said she had it in her adolescence.”
Even though doctors gave Miller hydrocodone for the pain, Miller said for two nights, he took NyQuil to try to help him sleep while he burrowed the unaffected right side of his body into a bean-bag chair.
“That was not fun,” Miller said.
Slowly, with antibiotics, the rash went away — and Miller returned in time for the team’s holiday trip to Texas for the Trinity Tournament in mid-December.
But the effects of the disease carried on throughout the season.
Miller said he struggled to pick up the nuances of an evolving offense. As a result, he lost confidence in his offensive game.
After spending nearly a month away from the team, he was out of shape.
“(Shingles) did not zap me of energy, but I was nervous about getting hit there (in the stomach). I mean, I have not been stabbed, but it felt internally liked I was getting pounded, like a kidney shot,” Miller said. “I am good at taking shots in the post. I had been doing it for five years. But at that point, I was shying away from contact. I did not want to bang with people.
“Psychologically, I was not the same basketball player.”
An offseason of getting back into the weight room and a good showing at the Bellevue College summer league got Miller back to his normal self.
He hasn’t stopped since, and he is a big reason the Lutes are back in the NWC postseason tournament for the first time since 2011.
“We run our offense through him,” Dickerson said. “If he gets the ball in there, something is going to happen — and it is usually pretty good.”