Deacon Spotlight: Miles Lester


Courtesy of the Winston-Salem Journal

Miles Lester earned an athletic scholarship for the second semester of his senior year.

Christina Denovio, Sports Editor

A redshirt senior from Wichita, KS, Miles Lester is soaking up his final year as a part of the Wake Forest basketball team. Lester’s college basketball career began at Rice University. After his freshman year, the guard decided to transfer to Wake Forest. Lester sat out his sophomore season after he walked onto the team due to NCAA transfer rules. Now, for his final semester, he has earned an athletic scholarship.

CD: When did you start playing basketball?

ML: I started playing when I was four or five years old — and then started playing competitively in third or fourth grade. I’ve loved the sport ever since then.

CD: How did you end up at Wake Forest?

ML: I went to Rice my freshman year and decided to transfer from there. One of the coaches on the staff was from my hometown, and I talked to him a little bit in high school. I came out here on a visit and enjoyed it. I wanted a school that had a business school because they didn’t have one at Rice, and that was something I wanted to major in. That was a big selling point. Another was that Wake Forest is in the ACC, which is one of the best college leagues for basketball. I was also drawn to the academics and small community. All those factors stood out, and the basketball tradition combined with the academic prestige really appealed to me.

CD: How was the transition from Rice to Wake Forest?

ML: It was pretty easy because both schools were pretty small and heavily focused on academics, but a lot different in terms of school spirit in sports. There’s not much of a sports culture at Rice. And obviously, the last couple of years, Wake Forest has had some success in football, and we’re having more success this year in basketball. Other sports have been really, really good since I’ve been here, like tennis and soccer. And so I think the biggest kind of transformation was being a part of a school that actually cared about sports and people that are excited about what’s going on in the athletic community. Also, in regards to the people here, I think it’s a more friendly and outgoing community. 

CD: What was your experience like sitting out during the 2018-2019 season? Did you learn anything valuable?

ML: I would say it was pretty difficult, just because there are things you think you can do to help the team and you’re not able to pretty much do anything because you have no chance of playing. But, I also think it was a really good learning experience because I got to settle in academically, and I got to focus a lot on schoolwork because I couldn’t travel. Also, there are just a lot fewer daily tasks you have to do when you’re sitting out, so I could actually focus on my academics pretty hard that year. I was also able to learn more from a basketball standpoint because I was watching all the time, so I was able to learn a lot more about the game.

CD: The team has had a strong start to this year’s season. How do you plan to continue being successful?

ML: We focus on it pretty much just day-by-day trying to win and get better every practice. We’re not overlooking anything. Obviously, there are some teams and ACC games that the fans and the students probably think are more important than the team might. We focus on each game because every game is important, but going into practice, we do the same things every day. It somewhat changes based on who we’re playing because we have to prepare for certain teams, but in terms of how we practice, it’s the same thing every day. And that’s kind of the mindset we all have — taking it one day and one game at a time. 

At the end of the day, Coach Forbes always reminds us that we’ll see how many wins we’ll end up stacking up and measure our success at that point. We see a lot of stuff talking about if we’re going to be in the tournament or not and that we’re kind of on the bubble. And right now, we’d be in if the season ended tomorrow. But at the end of the day, we’ve won some good games, and we’ve lost some games against good teams. We’re just focused on each day in practice and each game and then count them up when the season’s over.

CD: Is there one team on your schedule that you’re especially excited to play?

ML: Duke is always the biggest game of the year, just because in regards to basketball, they’re all you ever hear about. And then Kentucky, Kansas and Duke are the three big names you always hear about growing up. The top NBA recruits often go to Duke. It’s a similar academic school, too. That’s the game that you always target at the beginning of the season. Obviously, it showed when we played them that there’s a lot of fan support. That was probably the most packed the Joel has been since I’ve been here. I think this year, the UNC game coming up next week will be a pretty big game because right now they’re second in ACC, and we’re right there along with them. And, again, it’s a North Carolina school. They’ve had a lot of tradition and prestige, and I think we’ve only beaten them one time since I’ve been here, out of like, five or six tries. And it’d be pretty good to get that win, especially in front of the home crowd.

CD: As one of the older players, do you try to take on a leadership role?

ML: I think we have five seniors that are either grad or undergrad transfers, so we do have an older team. The seniors go against the freshmen pretty much every day in practice, and there’s a lot of teaching and learning points that happen on the court. And then off the court, the newer guys sometimes don’t know where their classes are, and they’ll text me or another one of the older guys and ask us where a building is. We’ll help them out and send them a picture from the directory. There’s a lot of things on and off the court that all the other seniors and I help the freshmen out with.

CD: Can you describe your relationship with your coaches and teammates? 

ML: I have a really good relationship with the coaching staff and all the players. This is the best team chemistry we’ve had since I’ve been here. We hang out all the time off the court. We spend a lot of hours in the locker room even when we probably don’t even have to be there; we just like to hang out with each other. I live with all the older guys downtown in an apartment complex. We’re always hanging out here. It has been a little more difficult lately with COVID-19 spiking up again, but in the summer and the preseason, we were hanging out all the time. It’s kind of helped on the court, because even when we’ve been down in games, we’ve never started yelling at each other, and we’ve never had any internal conflicts. Our attitude has always been that we just have to keep working and to come back in the game. If not, we can just look ahead to the next game. 

The team has a really good bond, and that kind of extends into the coaching staff. We all love the coaches, and they’re all supportive of helping us get better and trying to win games, but also caring about us off the court. And I think when your coaches care about you just as much off the court as on the court, it’s very beneficial to the team and individuals because you know they’re in your corner. Just overall, everyone has a really good relationship with the coaches, and they’ve been really good about focusing on school and other stuff outside of basketball that will help us 40 years in the future and not just while we’re here.

CD: As a senior, is there anything you’d like to accomplish before you graduate, either academically or athletically? 

ML: I’ve been here for four years, and Isaiah Mucius is the only other one that’s been here for four years. We’ve never won two games in the ACC tournament — I don’t even know if we’ve won one game. But winning a game, winning two games or winning the ACC tournament would be kind of the first goal. Also, we’ve never played in the NCAA tournament, so another goal would be to make a run in the NCAA tournament. We’ve only made it once in the last 10 years, and the team used to make it pretty much every year. I think that’d be huge for the program and also, just for guys like me and Isaiah who have stuck it out for four years when a lot of winning wasn’t happening.

CD: Looking back at your years at Wake Forest, what has been your favorite memory?

ML: I would say the night we beat Duke two years ago is probably the best experience I had in terms of basketball since I’ve been here. We were down like the whole game, and then came back and hit a shot to go to overtime. And then, we ended up running away with it in overtime. Like I mentioned earlier, we hadn’t won a lot of games, and they were top 15 in the country. Duke’s always a big game. We stormed the court — that was the only court-storming that I’ve been a part of since I’ve been here, so that was definitely memorable. And just seeing all my friends who are not on the team and getting to celebrate with them after the game on the court was awesome. We were all really excited about what we did and it was really cool. And then, going to the quad after and seeing like 1,000 students all pumped about what was going on and seeing all the excitement around what happened that night. We got to see how much it meant to like the Wake Forest community and the students. It was a pretty, pretty cool night and experience overall.

CD: What are your goals for the future after your time at Wake Forest?

ML: I worked with a venture capitalist company this summer that invests in early-stage sports tech companies. I either want to go into the investing world and do something similar and invest in startups or work for a startup. So hopefully, in 10 years, I’ll either have begun my own startup, or I’ll be working for a startup in the sports tech world.