Billings’ Muller awarded scholarship at Oregon State
Basketball practice is more fun for Daine Muller this season.
There is a little more pep in his step, more zip in his jumper.
Physically, Muller is the same. He’s the strong, 6-4, 202-pound do-everything competitor who can play guard or forward, willing to do the little things to help his team.
Emotionally, that’s where things are different.
A year ago, Muller was a member of the Oregon State basketball program. He was a walk-on, an outsider looking in. Muller could practice but nothing more.
This season, he is a full scholarship player.
Muller is all-in.
It is the fulfillment of a goal that has taken him through two high schools, three universities and a roller-coaster of emotional ups and downs.
“I know I’ve been down an interesting path to say the least,” said Muller, who turned 22 last month. “I certainly learned a lot. I am extremely grateful for the support I have received from family and friends.
“I am grateful to have this opportunity. Not many people get opportunities like this.”
Muller got the best news of his athletic career in mid-July in Corvallis.
Back on campus for summer workouts, Muller was preparing to play in a pickup game when head coach Wayne Tinkle sat down next to him.
“I thought he might ask about the family or how my summer was going,” Muller recalled. “It wasn’t anything formal.”
Tinkle informed Muller he was receiving a scholarship. It is a one-year deal.
“I probably didn’t react with any emotion,” said Muller. “I think I told him, ‘Sounds good.’ I was a little surprised. Inside, I was jumping around.”
Muller, who started his high school career at Billings West, was an all-state basketball and football player for Billings Skyview. He averaged 22.8 points and 6.8 rebounds a game for the Falcons his senior season. Muller capped it with a 39-point game against Kalispell Glacier in the 2013 Class AA third place game. He is the first boys basketball player from Skyview to be selected the Montana Gatorade Player of the Year.
Muller opted to walk-on at the University of Montana but was slowed by chronic exertional compartment syndrome.
According to the Mayo Clinic web page, it is an exercise-induced muscle and nerve condition that causes pain, swelling and sometimes disability in the affected muscles of the legs or arms. It is common for athletes who participate in activities that involve repetitive impact, such as running.
“It’s like playing with cramps in your legs,” he explained. “I started getting it my senior year of high school but I played right through it.”
Muller had a fasciotomy in August of 2013, where doctors cut the fascia to relieve the tension on the affected area. It would be the first of three procedures he would endure.
“It didn’t work out,” Muller said of the initial surgery. Muller had another surgery in August of 2014. “That didn’t work out either,” he added.
Muller decided to become a regular student, attending Montana State University in 2014-15. He filled his time with school, skiing and hanging out with friends.
Basketball became an after-thought. He didn’t even watch it on television.
“I didn’t want to do anything with it at that point,” Muller said. “I was tired of it. It was frustrating.”
But as the school year progressed, his love for basketball returned. Muller would play at the MSU rec center, holding his own against then current Bobcat players.
“I started missing it,” he said “But I had so much to deal with.”
He reached out to Tinkle, his coach at UM, to see if the new OSU head coach could help him in any way.
Tinkle had Muller work the Beavers’ basketball camps. Muller also took part in scrimmages with OSU players, showing flashes of his old self.
Tinkle asked him to walk on.
“I was still a little hesitant because of all the injuries,” admitted Muller.
And he had changed. No longer did athletics consume his life. His brother Brian finished as one of the top 3-pointer shooters in the history of Colorado Mines basketball, while brother Brady was a standout pitcher for the Montana State Billings baseball program.
Mullers and sports have always been intertwined.
“I learned to live life without basketball,” said Muller. “It didn’t define me anymore. Being out gave me a new perspective, a perspective not many athletes get this young.”
He had many long discussions with his parents, Dan and Sheri about playing again. “I was not sure if I wanted to come back,” said the son. “They told me it was better to give it a shot than live life with regrets.”
Muller was planning to play last year but the NCAA ruled he has to sit out a season because of the NCAA Division I transfer rule.
“Going into last season, I was real hopeful,” he said. “I thought since I took the year off, I would be OK … the NCAA didn’t think like that.
“I used the practices as games to get better. At times during practice, I felt like my old self. The game slowed down again.
“But I’m not going to lie, it crossed my mind about quitting. But I was not going to give up on myself.”
Muller had another procedure for his legs on Sept. 6 in Casper, Wyo. Doctors used Botox to paralyze the muscles that were cutting off the blood flow behind his knees. He is also susceptible to pulled calf muscles.
Muller is a senior academically, on track to graduate with, fittingly, a degree in kinesiology. Athletically, he is a sophomore and has been granted a sixth year of eligibility.
“I was happy to go into the year as a walk-on again,” said Muller. “I know I’ll be a little rusty. But I’m going to approach it the same as I always have. To compete for minutes.
“I’m pretty excited to be back on the court.”
The Beavers start their season Nov. 4 with a home game against Corban University.