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Riley Miller started his career as part of a St. Thomas men's basketball team that was a Division III powerhouse, but now he's ending it as the leader of a developing second-year Division I program.

Miller understands what Tommies culture is all about after four years.

Instead of moving on from college, though, the fifth-year senior guard decided to use his extra year of eligibility to pass that knowledge on to a talented group of newcomers.

"I'm kind of like bridging the gap," the former Benilde-St. Margaret's standout said. "A lot of my responsibility is on and off the court getting them up to speed — and it's been a lot of fun."

Not as fun as it would be for Miller to see St. Thomas make a jump from a 10-20 record last season, including 4-14 in its inaugural year in the Summit League. The Tommies open their new season Monday night at Creighton, a team ranked No. 9 in the country.

Miller began his college career winning the MIAC and making NCAA tournament runs with longtime Tommies coach Johnny Tauer, who ranked first among D-III coaches in win percentage before making the transition in level.

Tauer's program won't be eligible for the NCAA D-I tournament until 2025-26, well after Miller's gone. But St. Thomas will be able to compete in the Summit League tournament for the first time this season.

"We had the mentality that each game was our Super Bowl because we knew we couldn't play in the postseason last year," Miller said. "This year we're going in with the same mentality. We can play in the Summit League tournament but nothing after that. We really have nothing to lose. Most games we go into we're underdogs."

2022-23 schedule | Team roster

Miller's the ultimate underdog as a D-I standout. He was barely recruited to play college hoops at any level out of high school. He came off the bench as a D-III freshman. He worked himself into becoming the leading scorer and one of the best shooters in the nation, averaging 15.5 points on 40.9% from three-point range and 90.8% on free throws in 2021-22.

"Riley's as good a shooter as there is in the country," Tauer said. "If you watch him in practice, he's unbelievable. And that's a kid not ranked in the top 200 in Minnesota his senior year."

Miller, who is working toward a master's degree in business marketing, was proud that last season's squad showed it could be competitive even with mostly a D-III recruited roster, including second-leading scorer Parker Bjorklund from Chaska.

"I didn't even know if I was going to play college basketball," Miller said. "I've made the most of it. It's kind of everything I've dreamed of without having any sort of expectations going into it."

The Tommies have upgraded themselves quickly with the top recruiting class in the Summit League. Tauer landed locals Ahjany Lee, Carter Bjerke and Kendall Blue and Wisconsin native Andrew Rohde. He also added transfers Courtney Brown Jr. (Milwaukee) and Drake Dobbs (Liberty).

The newcomers have the talent to help St. Thomas compete more consistently at the D-I level, but Tauer hopes they see from Miller what it means to play for the Tommies.

"He embodies this program, that if you put the time and the work in, and you're coachable, the sky's the limit," Tauer said. "Wins and losses are important, but I felt like we competed at a really high level against some outstanding teams. A lot of that is credit to our veterans."