I started with, “Seriously though, great playing,” and tried to stop beaming.
Briana “Killer” Miller and I sat down to chat at the NAPT Freedom Classic at Eagle Billiards in Dickson City, PA, where Briana had just lost a spectacular hill-hill battle with Karen Corr in the finals. Everyone in the room was abuzz about the young gun giving Karen such a fight. For me, after years of watching the 22-year-old destroy all levels of competition, these finals were expected.
“Thank you so much” she replied with exaggerated sincerity and a smile, as if I was her biggest fan and she, the gracious champion. She’s my favorite brat.
I continued unaffected, stifling a chuckle, “I was talking to LoreeJon (Hasson) earlier and we were exchanging stories, she was asking about how you play. I had said to Hasson that I’ve kind of been smacking you over the head for a few years, telling you that you can play with the big dogs. You don’t seem to believe me, but…”
“I still don’t.” She interrupted.
“You still don’t?! Why not?” I said, wide-eyed with disbelief. I have been legitimately scolding this young woman that she has way more potential than she believes for as long as I have known her. That’s nearly eight years of finger wagging, apparently gone to waste.
“I still don’t believe you.” She repeated, as if I just simply hadn’t heard her.
“That is the second finals you’ve been in with Karen Corr.” I pointed, still confused at her conclusion.
“Right, right, I’ve yet to beat her,” the young champion dug in.
I was not letting her get away with that. “You beat her at Frederick, not in the finals, but you beat her.” I watched her play the legend twice in Frederick, besting her once. Later, in my interview with Karen, she brought the matches up to herself highlight Briana’s potential.
“See, the finals,” the young cynic narrowed, “It has to happen in the finals. THEN I can compete with the big dogs.”.
I pursued, knowing full well that a win is a win no matter when it happens. “Both of your matches today with her went hill-hill and that last rack against her was phenomenal. That was world class play.”
“Thank you.” She acquiesced. She knew she wouldn't convince me and I knew that if I hadn’t gotten through to her in all these years, I wasn’t about to accomplish anything in the next five minutes. Besides, the match I just watched was exhilarating, so I moved on to that.
“How do you feel about that last rack?” I explored.
“I feel like I should’ve made that 1-ball.” She said matter-of-factly. I burst out laughing, while she continued, leaning in with an eyeroll, “And ran out… TO WIN IT. That’s what I feel like.” She finished, crossing her arms and chuckling.'
We then discussed the shot in question, a 75-degree cut down the long rail from about the second diamond. If the cue ball and 1-ball had their paths highlighted, it would make a very tall number 7. A difficult shot indeed.
“I make this shot like 90% of the time.” Miller assured me.
“What was the other shot in your mind that you were considering?” I inquired. She may have a 90% at this, but the rest of us hang around 60% or less.
“A safety.” She said, then illustrates where the balls were and what she was considering for defensive shots. As a player myself, I can see that these were not easy options either.
“Would you rather have made the cut or do you think you should have taken the other shot?”
“I would go for the cut all day,” she said without hesitation. “Because with Karen, if you even let her see the ball, she’s going to punish you. So, I was like, I’ll either go for the shot and make it, awesome. Because I’ll have position on the next ball. Or I miss it, get lucky, she doesn’t have a shot, which happened. Or I lose. I was willing to take that risk.”
“Well that’s very brave of you.” I said, truthfully. To be in the finals with a hall of famer and be that confident in your abilities is a real accomplishment. “That’s one of the things I like about your game. You don’t shy away. “
“LoreeJon actually said the exact same thing.” Briana smiled. “She likes my offensive play.”
“I like it,” I giggle. “You’re very offensive.”
We share a laugh, promise inward to punch each other later. Then I remember I’m supposed to be interviewing her. “So, you’re going to Lindenwood?” I attempt to get us back on track.
Briana confirms, finishing her laughter. “Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri.”
“What are you studying there?” I knew Lindenwood was a pool-friendly university, and she was on teams even. I believe she was on a POOL SCHOLARSHIP, something out of a dream, surely.
“I am studying finance, and I will be graduating in December.”
“December? Are you excited?”
“I’m so excited, yet so nervous.” She said, looking away.
I remember that period. It’s very nerve-wracking deciding what to do with your life. I asked the question I know that she’s tired of hearing. “What’s the next step after that?”
“No idea?” I repeated, testing that answer.
“That’s where the nerves come in.” She said, nodding her head.
“Ok, well I think your nerves on the table are pretty alright, so maybe try some of that.” I offered playfully.
“Yeah, well this is also like my comfort zone. The real world, not so much.” She says with a chuckle.
“Right, it’s scary out there.” I confirm for her.
“So I’ve heard. Everyone tells me to just stay in school as long as you can. DON’T come out to the real world.” she animatedly recounts for me, making claw hands and everything. “It’s not too motivating. “
Through my smile, I manage to ask, “So, what is interesting about finance?”
“Money. That’s the only thing. There’s nothing in school that I’m actually passionate about, so I was just like, ‘well, I’ll get a degree in something that’s useful and can make money with.’”
“That’s smart.” I say, acknowledging the decision, while lamenting her not taking the decidedly riskier course of exploring her talent. “Are you passionate about pool?” I asked, envisioning her titles ten years from now.
“Yes, but it will just be a hobby for me. I’m passionate about it, but it’s not going to take me anywhere. Well, it’s already taken me so far, but you know what I mean. “I know that she means it won’t make her money. I can’t say I agree with her though.
In a moment of self-recognition, she shows me a cue ball with her signature (among others) that had been requested. Obviously, she is aware that she is being noticed. Where she goes from here is up in the air, though.
“Do you like my signature?” She jokes.
“I didn’t even look, I don’t read any of yours if it’s not in crayon.” As nine years her senior, I have always and will always remind her she is a kindergartener.
“Right…” she shakes her head and puts the ball back in its container, trying to hide her smile.
“So, back to pool. You’ve obviously had a lot of experience, a lot of time on the table, and a few titles at this point. Do you still enjoy it? Is it still fun? Still exciting?”
“Alright, so up until this tournament, no.” she says to my surprise. She’s a very hard character to read, giving almost no emotion away at the table. “I was completely done with pool. But I came into this tournament with an entirely different outlook. I came in just to have fun. I didn’t care how I did or what, who I played. It was just me, playing pool, playing the game I love. Against Naomi, I was laughing during my match. Have you ever seen me laugh during a match?”
“I rarely see that outside of the match too, though so...” It was so tough to not just crack on her the entire time we were chatting. I hope you readers have enjoyed my efforts not to.
“I was just laughing during my match, just having fun.” Miller recounted “It seems to be working, so that’s my new mentality. You know, just don’t take it too seriously. Because I actually enjoyed myself this weekend.” She said with a bit of reflection.
“Well, that’s amazing to hear. Is there anyone you’d like to thank?”
“Jacoby Custom Cues.” She answered singularly, going on to tell me how they’ve stuck by her for many years.
I personally cannot believe such a heavyweight on the table has only attracted the one sponsor, but the Jacoby people are just ahead of the game it seems. She regularly wins whatever event I see her in. So, I shrugged my shoulders and finished my interview with the 6-time Junior National champ, 3-time Super Billiards Expo Women’s Amateur Champion, and more-titles-than-I-can-list champion, Briana Miller.
We could’ve sat there for hours just laughing and discussing matches. Responsibly, however, she had to get on the road and so did I; the grind of the pool life moved us forward. So, we stopped taking cracks at each other and packed up: I, with my laptop, and Briana, with her future. Here’s to hoping we see her in many more finals to come.
Thanks to the NAPT and Eagle Billiards, for more info or to find links to the exciting finals between Briana and Karen Corr go to www.playnapt.com.