Aug. 14, 2008
Rivals.com College Basketball Editor
Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett leaves Thursday for Beijing."I don't know when I'll ever get another opportunity like this," he told Rivals.com.
It is, indeed, a rare opportunity. Bennett is the only college coach in America who has a player participating in the Olympic basketball tournament. Australian Patrick Mills turned 20 on Monday and is a rising sophomore for the Gaels. He's also a rising talent who is making the world beyond the West Coast Conference take notice.
Mills is a member of the Australian national team. The Boomers are 0-2 so far at the Games, but Mills has been outstanding. He is averaging 15.5 points and shooting better than 50 percent from the floor. He also doesn't have a turnover in 43 minutes of play.
Mills scored a team-high 22 points Tuesday against Argentina, a medal contender led by San Antonio Spurs star Manu Ginobili. In an exhibition game shortly before the Olympics started, Mills led the Aussies with 13 points in a loss to the United States.
"He's played a lot of games already this summer," Bennett said. "They (the Aussies) toured Europe. By the time he hit the Olympics, he'd probably played 15 games against pros or Olympic teams.
"He just kept progressing. When I saw him play the other day I said, 'Yeah, that's how he played for us.' It's a bad decision to pressure him full court. He's so fast and so quick. For me that really put it in perspective. You think, 'He's playing Chris Paul and Deron Williams. They'll keep him in front of them.' But he shot layups just like he did in college."
Mills burst on the scene in his first season at Saint Mary's, averaging 14.8 points and 3.5 assists per game. He dropped a season-high 37 points on Oregon, and he had 24 in the Gaels' first-round NCAA Tournament loss to Miami. Mills was named first-team all-conference and the league's Newcomer of the Year.
"One thing people don't know about him is how great his belief is in his ability and his team to win," Bennett said.
Saint Mary's went 25-7 and finished 12-2 in the league, second to Gonzaga. It was good enough to earn Bennett's team an NCAA at-large bid, one of two garnered by WCC teams.
What has Bennett seen out of Mills this summer as he has continued to improve?
"Confidence is the No. 1 thing," Bennett said. "His style and skills haven't changed much. He'll keep getting better because he has an awesome attitude and he's a great competitor."
Bennett knows Mills will be worn down by the time he returns to campus. But he also knows he'll have a better player and a guy who enjoyed the experience of a lifetime.
"We'll just have to be smart about resting him when he's done," Bennett said. "But these are games that really matter to him. There's so much emotion. This is the dream of a lifetime. All of a sudden he finds himself there. I don't think he truly understood the emotions. But first there were the opening ceremonies, then he's into the games playing against the likes of Ginobili, and he's trying to help his country get to the medal round.
"We'll be sure to give him a chance to mentally and physically recover. He will not go through the same program as the rest of the guys."
Bennett has been asked often how Mills ended up at Saint Mary's, as though he discovered the player on a dirt court in the Outback or something. He sounds as though he has heard the question enough.
"We just recruited him," Bennett said. "We were on him early.
"He played in the Nike Hoop Summit when he was 17. I can't think of a venue where he would have been more exposed. I just don't think people figured out he was that good."