Tory Miller-Stewart has spent his entire Colorado basketball career battling two of the best rebounders in the history of the program.
He picked up a few tricks along the way. Now a senior, Miller-Stewart believes he is ready to put that knowledge into action for the Buffaloes.
This past week head coach Tad Boyle expressed his believe that the 6-foot-9 senior forward is rebounding the ball better than at any point during his CU career. If the Buffs hope to be a surprise team in the Pac-12 Conference despite their youthful roster, Miller-Stewart will need to continue that rebounding prowess through March.
"Rebounding is aggressiveness, it's want-to, it's will, it's habits. It's not anything I have a secret to from a coaching standpoint," Boyle said. "With Tory, I think he's just made a commitment. We talk to our players a lot about the difference in being interested in something and being committed to it. There's a big difference between being interested in being a good rebounder and being committed to being a rebounder. If you're committed, you're boxing out and going and pursuing the ball. If you're interested, you do it sometimes, you don't do it sometimes."
During his first three seasons at CU, Miller-Stewart spent each and every practice battling either Josh Scott or Wesley Gordon, and sometimes both. Scott completed his decorated CU career with 974 total rebounds, the third-best mark in the program's history. And despite a senior year last season that fell short of expectations, Gordon's final rebounding total of 882 still was good for No. 6 on the Buffs' all-time rebounding list.
Miller-Stewart says he was taking notes during those practice battles.
"I think it's a combination of a lot of things," Miller-Stewart said. "You play against Josh Scott for two years, and then you deal with Wesley. Going against that for three years where you're playing against top-tier rebounders, I got to go against top-five rebounders in their career. So now, it's easier when you play against guys that haven't done that.
"Josh was a cheating bleep-bleep but he got the job done. And Wesley was real crafty. I'm trying to combine both of them to help me this year."
Playing mostly a backup role his first three seasons, Miller-Stewart has averaged just 3.6 rebounds over 95 games, with an average of 4.0 last year and a career-best of 4.6 in the 2015-16 season, when both Scott and Gordon were on the roster. Expected to assume a starting role this year, Miller-Stewart's potential for increased production on the glass hinges less on his expanded playing time than his ability to cut down on the litany of unnecessary fouls that too often have forced him to the bench prematurely.
"Number one, we have to officiate our practices on a consistent basis," Boyle said. "You want your players to understand what is a foul, and what isn't a foul. Because that might change game to game. It might change half to half. It might change official to official. There are a lot of variables. Your habits have to be really solid."