Odds and ends with Patrick Mills

by August 12, 2008

by Cub Buenning

Patrick Mills is a tough guy to check.  Scores of college point guards couldn’t get it done, last week Chris Paul wasn’t up to the task, and earlier this summer, even his own coach couldn’t locate the 19-year-old Aussie.

Before the printing of issue #121, only a few of our trusted readers were familiar with the basketball exploits of Patrick Mills.  St. Mary’s College (CA) was not a big name on the national television schedule and its recent inclusion into the national top 25 hadn’t happened since the Reagan administration.

This past spring’s NCAA Tournament was to be Mills’ big national introduction as the 25-win Gaels were awarded an at-large birth (although he was a part of the international team at the ’06 Nike Hoops Summit). A subpar game against Miami (FL), however, in the first-round ensured that Mills’ name would stay buried under the rest of the nation’s star-studded freshmen class.

Long after Mario Chalmers hit that desperation shot and most of the country’s university co-eds were heading back home for the summer, I was granted the opportunity to introduce our readership to the Aboriginal native from Canberra, Australia.

Keep in mind that by this point, Mills was back in Australia training with the National Team, so the call I lobbed to the Sports Information Department at St. Mary’s was the first of a series of calls I made.

Gaels’ Head Coach Randy Bennett was easy to procure, as the coach was more than happy to talk about his young leader.

Complimentary words and phrases spewed forth with ease from the 8th-year coach.  He spoke at length about how important the bridge to Australia has been for his young program (a half-dozen guys from Down Under have played for Bennett.) But he knew his most recent addition was special.

“He gives your team a confidence, a swagger that very few guys possess.  There are a lot of guys that can score, I mean he got us 14 a game, but as a coach, having him out there, you have a confidence as a coaching staff and a team.”

“He believes we are going to win every game.  Patty’s a tremendous worker, he’s about the right stuff in every way, he doesn’t talk trash or anything; he just hoops.  In his heart and mind, he thinks we are going to win.  You can talk about all the other stuff, he’s unbelievably well-conditioned, he’s fast, he’s quick, and you can go on and on.  But the thing that separates him from all of the other great players is that he truly believes his team is going to win every game.”

While my conversation with Bennett was very revealing, I still needed to talk to Mills, himself.  The school had begun putting out feelers to locate the kid, but no one could find him.  They had an idea (somewhere with the Boomers) but even the other two Aussies on the team (Ben Allen and Carlin Hughes, both of whom were still around campus) did not know how to get in touch with the mercurial guard.

As my deadline approached, I seemed to be getting no where.  My brief 325-word piece could have been easily scripted without an actual discussion with Mills, but my impression on the kid would be altered without getting the chance.

I thought that all my problems were solved a few days later when I received a call from an unidentified number which was accompanied by an Australian accent on the other line.  I first assumed it was the individual I had been tracking (I deciphered the name Mills from the voice’s introductory delivery) but soon discovered I was talking with Patty’s father.  A beautifully eloquent gentleman, the elder Mills informed me that his son was on the other side of the country (far western reaches) with the Boomers and he could be reached through the national team’s media director.

I’m making progress, I thought.  I have made contact with Australia!  Things were just starting, however.

A few calls with the media director were made and our discussions seemed to point towards an interview happening soon.  The crazy long-time change and Mills’ busy schedule twice pushed the interview back until one evening, when the director literally chased Mills down outside a hotel elevator between a breakfast and a practice session.

What ensued next was a pleasant exchange that was unfortunately cut short by the need to get my piece sent off to New York.  It was the third night in a row that I “stayed up way past my bedtime,” but it was finally worth the lost z’s.

Unassuming and polite are the two easiest adjectives to describe Mills during our Trans-Pacific conversation.  To those around the national program, Mills was a chinch to be named to the final roster, but the youngster was taking a series of exhibition games with Iran seriously, as his last chance to impress.

Here is just a sampling:

On Mills’ choice to attend St. Mary’s.

“One of the biggest things that stuck out to me and my family was that Coach Bennett, himself, the head of the program, had taken the time himself to come visit my family in Australia.  He just made a great impression; we knew that there was just something different about him.  He’s a real humble person and trust-worthy and to my family that was the biggest thing; finding the right program and the right people that they could trust when moving to the other side of the world.”

On losing to Miami in the NCAA

“Making it to the tournament in my freshmen year, it was such a great challenge, probably our biggest of the year.  Coming up against a great team in Miami with great individuals like Jack McClinton; to witness the competition at that level is what I need to learn from and bring into next season.  I guess, it’s just a matter of learning from those instances and moving forward.”

On playing in the Olympics

“From day one, growing up as a kid, playing for your country was the biggest thing for an Australian youngster.  Playing in the NCAA tournament during the college season was big, but there is nothing better than playing for your home country.  To know that you are in a position to make the team for the Olympics is just very exciting.  The Olympics don’t come around every year, and not everyone gets this opportunity every day.  So it’s just one of those things that you really have to make the most of it, because it just doesn’t happen that often.  Representing Australia is definitely one of the biggest thrills for me, and one I am very proud of.”

(Olympic Update: Mills had nine points in Australia’s opening match loss to Croatia, who shot 13-16 from behind the arc. Today, the Boomers are  playing Argentina, a team they almost beat last week in an exhibition tune-up.)