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Sign Of The Times

Billboard Tells Millar He's Only Days From Playing in Olympics


The billboard outside the Olympic training center serves as a daily reminder for Ryan Millar, counting the days to Sydney from the moment he arrived at the Colorado Springs facility last year.

370, 369, 368. . . .

He showed up for the U.S. national team tryouts with a decorated resume and a freshly earned national championship, accolades that would stop a bus, but didn't necessarily guarantee a spot on the Team USA roster.

This was a new level of play, after all. This was the international level.

Millar, who led Brigham Young to the 1999 NCAA men's volleyball championship, didn't flinch. The former Highland High middle blocker merely adapted and advanced. Rapidly.

The two-time NCAA player of the year and three-time All-American is a starter for the U.S., seeded No. 5 as it attempts to duplicate its success of the 1980s--gold medals at the 1984 and 1988 Games.

Millar is part of a youthful infusion that has the U.S. thinking it can eradicate its listless performance at the 1996 Olympics, where they failed to make the quarterfinals in a 12-team tournament.

Along with George Roumain, a former Pepperdine All-American, the 22-year-old Millar has brought enthusiasm and, more important, ability as the U.S. moved up several spots in the world rankings in a matter of months.

U.S. Coach Doug Beal knew he was getting a player with strong blocking skills, but admitted he underestimated Millar's offensive ability. He was genuinely surprised to discover Millar's ability to pound the ball to any spot on the court.

"He's got a remarkable hitting range and a very fast arm swing," Beal said. "He hits the ball either way with heat. A lot of guys can only hit it one way. Ryan goes across the body or down the line because he gets on the ball so quickly. He can hit the ball to so many places."

The 6-foot-7 Millar is a bit undersized for a middle blocker in today's international game. Russia has 7-2 and 6-11 middle blockers, while The Netherlands has two 7-footers in the middle.

Millar's speed, however, is the equalizer.

"I can't remember a middle as quick as him," said Beal, who compared Millar to past national middle blockers Craig Buck, Doug Partee and Steve Timmons. He's got some physical tools that are quite unusual."

Millar's secret to success? Nothing real earth-shattering.

"One thing I tell people is when you step up to another level, your whole game automatically rises," Millar said.

"Playing at a real high level the last year and a half has got my mind to where it is now and where it has to be for Sydney."

After Sydney, Millar will play a six-month season in an upper-echelon Italian professional league.

One of his teammates in Italy will be Roumain, a former adversary in college.

"We always respected each other when we played in college . . . it was just that it always seemed like it came down to winning a match or two against Pepperdine and George [in the playoffs].

"When we finally got on the same team [in Colorado Springs], we hit it off. We're roommates on the road and we decided to see if we could get a package deal on a pro team. We found one."

When the Italian league ends in April or May, depending on whether the team makes the playoffs, Millar plans to return to Provo with his wife, Suzanne, whom he married three years ago last week.

He'll play a little golf--he claims to shoot consistently in the 80s--and will pick up a snowboard, a hobby that has taken a slight back seat to volleyball.

Millar, who is Mormon, wants to continue working on his degree in physical education and hopes to be a graduate assistant coach at BYU by 2002, perhaps a stepping stone for his dream job--the Cougars' head coaching spot.

For now, Millar has one specific short-term goal. He sees the familiar billboard every day, waiting for the future to mesh with the present as the countdown to Australia gets closer to zero.

15, 14, 13. . . .



Height: 6-foot-7

Age: 22

Birthplace: San Dimas

Hometown: Provo, Utah

High School: Highland

College: Pepperdine

Honors: Youngest member of the U.S. team . . . Last year, led BYU to its first national championship and was Volleyball magazine player of the year . . . Three-time All-American . . . American Volleyball Coaches Assn. player of the year in 1997.


Who: U.S. men's volleyball

When: Sept. 17-Oct. 1

Where: Darling Harbour Entertainment Centre; Olympic Park Buring Pavillion

Opponents: Argentina, Russia, Yugoslavia, Korea, Italy (Pool B)

Qualifying: Top four after pool play advance to quarterfinals.

Medal Favorites: Italy, Russia, Cuba, Brazil, U.S.

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