The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The Godfather of the Rec Center

If you’ve ever walked into the Rec Center to play a win-or-get-steppin’ pickup game to 15, then you know who Johnny Miller is. Truth be told, you couldn’t miss him if you tried.

Looking and acting far younger than any 59-year old has a right to, the retired Miller now makes a living as a professional gym rat at the Rec. His appearance and personality are as famous as his shooting touch: hair like a young Julius Irving, motor-mouth like Gary Payton, heart like Mother Theresa.

He’s been hanging around the Rec since he graduated as a Golden Eagle in 1975 – although back then he would have still been considered a Warrior, a name suitable for a man who has been playing rough-and-tumble pickup ball for 30-some years.

“There are some priests who played basketball at Marquette until they were 70,” Miller said. “So that’s my goal. Play ’till I’m 70.”

When Miller finally hangs up the sneakers, he’ll likely be the Rec Center’s unofficial record holder in minutes played, points scored, ankles broken, fools schooled and every other imaginable category. But more important are the relationships he’s forged and the people he’s impacted. Miller said he probably knows everybody who has played basketball at Marquette in the last 35 years.

“I’m a cheerleader out there. I just want to give support to the kids at Marquette. I like to initiate all the new freshmen with a nice ass-kicking at the Rec,” Miller said with a laugh.

In particular, Miller has been actively involved in the Educational Opportunity Program at Marquette, a program set up for low-income students to help them succeed in higher education. The EOP was the main reason Miller – who had received offers to play football at UW-Madison and North Carolina – decided to attend Marquette. The other reason was Jim Chones.

Chones, like Miller, is a Marquette legend. But the 6-foot-11 center built his legacy on the Bradley Center hardwood, not at the Rec Center.  The two grew up together in Racine, Wis., where they grinded out one-on-one battles like Magic and Bird.

“We had some competitive games until we were around 12,” Miller said. “One year I grew to 6-foot-2 and he grew to about 7-foot. He could dunk from the free-throw line. There was no competition after that.”

With Chones’ persuasion, Miller walked on to the Marquette basketball team his freshman year. He mostly rode the bench for the year and a half he played under coaches Al McGuire and Hank Raymonds, but his experiences molded him into the tough, yet paradoxically caring, man he is today.

“Al was just a crazy individual,” Miller said. “He had this rule where if you got into a fight with a teammate at practice, the winner took the other out for lunch. You leave all that stuff on the court, you know? I used to take out the players at the Rec, but it started getting expensive.”

Miller decided to quit the team because he was playing as much as the water cooler, and, as Miller put it, “to become a professional gym rat.” He made the Rec his personal schoolyard, and he’s been giving out lessons about basketball — and about life — ever since. And although Miller still laces ’em for personal reasons, like to relieve stress and stay young, his ultimate motivation is to give back to the community that gave him a chance to succeed.

“I feel like I owe a great deal to Marquette. They saved my life,” Miller said. “They gave me opportunity to play ball with greats like Chones, Dean Meminger and Maurice Lucas. I just want to provide support for the kids now.”

So next time you’re at the Rec, do yourself a favor and pay your respects to Don Johnny Miller, The Godfather of Marquette basketball.

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  • G

    Gary AndersonJul 23, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    I new Johnny when he lived in “Sweet Aberdeen – Home of the Beauty Queen”. Johnny was a great guy – on the road and off. If anyone has contact information please pass it to me.

  • S

    Steven TiptonFeb 18, 2010 at 10:43 am

    Hey Johnny you deserve this article. There is no bigger rat gym rat than you. Your wife can’t even get you out of the gym. Johnny is a great shooter, but he recognizes who is the # 1 shooter at Marquette. Keep up the good work Johnny, and keep cheerleading for us winner. We really appreciate it. Be blessed.

  • J

    joseph mosleyFeb 18, 2010 at 2:10 am

    I remember Johnny in the 80’s, true top competitor, loved playing with or against, mostly against(ha ha)something about the mouth, always incredible effort, true drive, love of THE GAME! School is in Session with Professor Miller, schooled a good number of Marquette recruits and Students with that jump shot and all his talks(class 101). Johnny was a life coach, then and now, in fact he said he was heading to the gym, this night.
    The Guys (gym rats,INC) would use some of those pick up games to gauge talented young mindsets, possible NBA careers “remember when” conversations. Thanks to the writer of this article on Mr J Miller.

  • A

    Angelo SmithFeb 1, 2010 at 11:22 am

    Thomas introduced me to Johnny back in 1991 when I came to Milwaukee to work for Miller Brewing Company. Growing up in Chicago I had ran into guys that talked a lot while playing, but none could compare to Johnny. The reason, Johnny is a wonderful personality with a wonderful heart. We have been friends since Thomas drove that grey Trans AM(ha ha). Ayway, its good to see how’s he’s being appreciated. In our community today, we really need more Johnny’s. Thanks for writing this, it’s well deserved.

  • T

    Thomas WindsorFeb 1, 2010 at 10:51 am

    Great article. Johnny was the first person i met in Milwaukee, back in 1980. He truly left it all on the court- a true entertainer, gentleman and scholar off the court. (And yes, he was know to get under the skin of a few.) Oh, and he couldn’t keep score. Congratulations, Johnny. And nice work, Mr. Schmidt.

  • S

    schmidtyJan 29, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    nice work son