COLUMBIA — The Rock Bridge boys basketball team has improved on offense this season, but its defense is not as good. A big reason for this is the Bruins' new point guard. Sophomore Justin Miller replaced Mike Petrik, who graduated last year, and the two play different games.
“I’d try to get after it every game,” Petrik said. “Not by leading the team in scoring but by keeping a high intensity. I tried to bring a lot of energy.”
Rock Bridge (24-2) at Hickman (15-9)
When: Friday at 7 p.m.
Where: Holt High School in Wentzville
Petrik was a defensive juggernaut but not a natural scorer. Miller has a soft offensive touch, but his defense is not quite at the level of Petrik. Because Miller is a sophomore, he has a lot of time to improve.
“Mike (Petrik) was a lock-down defender,” senior guard Skylar Tolson said. “He did a good job of handling the ball, but he wasn’t involved much in the offense. With Justin, our style of play has changed. He came in as a sophomore and added a bit more offense. We haven’t really lost anything.”
Petrik and Miller got to know each other briefly last season. From what Petrik saw, he knows Miller has the ability to become a star.
“Justin (Miller) has a lot of potential," Petrik said. "The sky is the limit for him. The smarter he becomes with the ball, the better he gets. He might not have as much grit as me, but he has good handling skills and he’s a lot smoother than I ever was.”
Miller said he is learning from his coach and fellow players.
“My offense gives us more of a scoring threat,” Miller said. “My defense is something I need to work on because defense wins games. If you can’t stop anyone, you’re not going to be able to win.”
Another aspect of Petrik’s game that Miller is trying to copy is Petrik’s vocal leadership. Teammates admit that Petrik was more of a talker, and as Miller gets more comfortable, he speaks up more.
“He was always talking and being very vocal,” Miller said. "Last year on JV, I wasn’t really vocal. I learned that being a point guard you have to talk a lot, and you have to be loud.”
Petrik is a freshman at MU and has not had a chance to follow his former team much this year. When he has had a chance to attend practices, Petrik said he is pleased with Miller's improvement as a leader.
“When he first came, coach couldn’t get a word out of him," Petrik said. "When you’re the point guard, you must be vocal. He was timid last year, but from the little I’ve seen this year, I can tell he has improved a lot.”
Petrik and Miller might play different games, but both styles of play are looked at as positive contributions by their coach.
“Mike (Petrik) guarded the other team’s toughest shooter,” coach Jim Scanlon said. “He was a good, smart, physical player. You can try to make them defensive players, but you have to like to play defense, and Mike did. Justin’s done excellent. He provides offense at point guard. The point guard touches the ball all of the time. If they aren’t playing well, nobody is.”
Rock Bridge wants to win a state championship. As a sophomore, Miller will likely have more chances to achieve this goal. For the seniors, this is their last shot, and Miller is ready to step up his game, both offensively and defensively, to make their dreams come true.
”I’m excited,” Miller said. “I want to win for the seniors. I still have two more years here to pull it off. I’m just going to go as hard as I can for the seniors.”