For as long as NieRonn Miles can remember, he has strived to be different.
On the basketball court, he is typically one of the first players noticed since he wears a pair of bright neon yellow Nike Hyperdunk shoes. Off the court, he wants to be a sign language interpreter.
“I got to stand out somehow and get noticed,” the Prince George's Community College men's basketball team's starting sophomore point guard said. “A lot of the guys are good, so you got to be something different.
“As for sign language, if basketball doesn't work out, I want to be an interpreter. I mean, there's no one in my family or friends that are deaf. In high school, everyone took Spanish and I always wanted to be different — just like my shoes — so I kind of fell in love with sign language and helping people out.”
This winter, Miles, who was not recruited by a four-year college scholarship program when he graduated from Eleanor Roosevelt High School in 2011, has helped lead the Owls (18-10 record) to the No. 1 seed in Friday and Saturday's National Junior College Athletic Association Division III Region 20 tournament in Pittsburgh. Last season, PGCC was just one victory shy of a berth in the national tournament.
“NieRonn's been the catalyst for everything we do, especially the second half of the year,” said PGCC coach Xavier Joyner, who favors an up-tempo offense and a 40-minute full-court press. “Every team is only as good as your point guard and he has set the tone in terms of getting the tempo going and putting guys in the right position.
“Kids like NieRonn, who won a region championship in high school, are the type of kids we want to recruit. We knew that he was well-coached and had good habits coming from Roosevelt.”
The vast majority of PGCC's roster is filled with student-athletes from Prince George's or Montgomery counties and Washington, D.C. Some enroll at PGCC directly out of high school while others transfer from another college or university. And almost every member of the program — after two years — signs with a four-year Division I or II school.
Miles' (14.6 points per game, 8.5 assists, 5.5. rebounds) success this winter has resulted in a couple of Division I offers, including one from Kennesaw (Ga.) State.
Meanwhile, Tyler Logan, Miles' good friend, starting backcourt mate and former high school opponent (Charles H. Flowers), is in a slightly different situation. Last year, Logan was a freshman at Frostburg State, but the team and school were not a good fit for him. So he moved back home after the season, reopened his basketball recruitment and enrolled at PGCC.
“It's great to be back in the area because I knew a lot of guys on the team like NieRonn,” said Logan, who played with Miles prior to ninth grade on Roosevelt's summer league team. “[At PGCC], we got a lot of the same interests and hang out with each other outside of practice. We laugh and joke and reminiscence about what it was like when we played each other in high school. But not too much about when [Roosevelt beat Flowers in the 2011 4A West Region final] when we were seniors.”
Logan, who is the Owls' leading scorer (16.0 points per game), has since received a handful Division II offers, including one from the New York Institute of Technology.
“Tyler and NieRonn are both really nice guards,” Joyner, the former Montgomery College, Germantown coach, said. “Both shoot a high percentage and can take defenders off the dribble. So teams can't play zone or man against them.
“Those two are just examples of what we love to do. We help them mature as people and also help develop them into scholarship players. In my two years here, we've had over 14 guys get full rides, and potentially 21 after this year.”
Logan and Miles both point to a victory against the Allegany College of Maryland on Jan. 30 as a game that defined their tenure at PGCC. Miles (29) and Logan (28) combined to score 57 of their team's 83 points.
“We were on and just couldn't be stopped,” Miles said.
PGCC started the 2012-13 season slowly, but after at trip to Florida for a couple of games in early January, the Owls began to play better. Since, they've won 12 of their 13 games and hope to win a national championship later this month.
“That was the turning point when we all realized how much better we would play,” Miles said. “For me and Tyler, the chemistry was always half there since we knew each other. It was just a matter of getting it all there.
“Now, all we want to do is win a national championship. ... That will definitely be different.”