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MOUNT ZION — Sweat poured down Malcolm Miller's face.

The Shelbyville senior was wrapping up his second summer league basketball game before noon on Monday in the big gym at the Mount Zion shootout.

None of the games will ultimately matter in Shelbyville basketball history.

The Rams were trailing Tolono Unity in the second game by too many points to close the gap in front of a sparse number of fans in the early afternoon game.

Any plays made down the stretch were a matter of pride and growth.

In the waning minutes of the game, Miller left his defender to help a teammate, rose up and pinned a Unity shot attempt against the backboard.

Plays like that, particularly on defense, are exactly what Miller has been working on as he readies for college basketball.

“I know I need to get better at that if I want to play at the next level, and it’s kind of what we need if I want to show these younger guys what’s expected," Miller said.

Miller, who was the second leading scorer in the Herald & Review coverage area with 24.9 points last season, and a first-team all-area selection, is known for his ability to score anywhere on the court.

On Monday, defenders shadowed Miller with every step he took, even upwards of three steps behind the 3-point line.

Scoring comes naturally for Miller, who has been doing three-day-a-week workouts this summer in an attempt to increase his quickness.

But defense has been a chief priority for Miller.

“I know that I need to get better," he said. "If I can’t guard a person here, I can’t guard a person in college."

Those workouts are paying dividends and Shelbyville coach Bob Herdes can already see vast improvement from last year.

“He’s much better than he was," Herdes said. "He’s quicker, he’s stronger, he put in the effort, he trains hard and he’s taken over the leadership. He’s going to have to do that this year."

Shelbyville is coming off of a 21-7 season that included a share of the Central Illinois Conference regular season championship with St. Teresa.

The Rams lost three seniors — Turner Pullen, Cade Watson and Brett Spears — from last year's team, but returns Kade Kull, who played substantial minutes as a freshman last season.

Miller thinks the Rams will be in the same spot this season, and potentially go further in the postseason than a regional final loss to Effingham St. Anthony last year, despite a younger team.

“I don’t expect a fall off at all," Miller said. "Everyone thinks losing seniors will hurt us, but we compete and we get after it."

If defenders crowd Miller anytime he is across the half-court line, as they did on Monday, Miller has worked to round out his game — driving past defenders to the hoop or a quick pass followed by a cut through the lane.

He doesn't want to be seen as a one-dimensional player.

But with a young team around him, opposing teams will highlight him on the scouting report.

"He’s going to, at times, maybe have to be a little bit selfish," Herdes said. "We’ve got some young kids who are competitors and get after it. He’s got to lead by example, and that’s what he does. It’s a great thing. They watch him work and he works as hard as anybody."

Miller loves the defensive attention.

“I see it as a challenge," he said. "It’s a sign of respect and I have fun with it and see if I can still go do what I do."

The influx of youth, all of whom Miller praised for their work ethic, comes with an additional perk.

His younger brother, Mason, is a freshman on this year's team.

The brothers already have a built-in chemistry from years of playing together and have waited for the day they were both wearing Rams jerseys.

“It’s something we’ve been talking about every since we were little kids," Malcolm said. "We were never anywhere close to the same age, I felt like. I said, ‘Just make sure you can play when you’re a freshman.’"

When Mason sees Malcolm, he'll see his brother scoring from whatever spot on the floor he wants, and he'll also see his commitment to the defensive end.

Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25

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Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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