Sept. 3, 2008
Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett went to Beijing to protect his primary investment for this season.
But he didn't have to worry. Any assumption that Patty Mills would bolt overseas after a banner performance for the Australian Olympic team is moot.
If calls were made to try to lure Mills overseas, they were muted quickly. Bennett didn't say there were any concrete overtures, but he certainly heard the chatter that Mills could be an attractive early fall pickup for a team overseas. But Mills, according to Bennett, didn't hesitate in returning to Saint Mary's for his sophomore season.
Mills was the star for the Aussies, coming off the bench to score a team-high 20 points in 29 minutes (with three steals and two assists and no turnovers) in the Aussies' 116-85 loss to the Americans in the Olympic quarterfinals.
Bennett said Mills returned home to Australia after the Olympics and will be back in Moraga on Sunday. He missed the first four days of classes, which began on Tuesday.
"He was in Europe, he was everywhere -- he needed a break after this summer," Bennett said on Tuesday.
But having the 5-foot-11 point guard back gives the Gaels a legit shot to challenge Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference.
The consensus on Mills -- from NBA scouts to WCC coaches -- is that he could challenge for Player of the Year honors, lead the Gaels to the NCAA tournament and be a legit top-20 pick in the NBA draft.
Mills' speed on the fast break was a plus for the Aussies in Beijing, and Bennett said he was impressed by how much Mills has improved. The coach was in Beijing for Australia's victories over Russia and Lithuania over a three-day period.
"I was so proud of him, but I knew he could be aggressive [at the elite level]," Bennett said. "I knew he would perform, but I wasn't sure he could score at that level. He exceeded my expectations, and I think he did as well for [Australian coach] Brian Goorjian."
The Australian Olympic Web site is already touting Mills, along with Milwaukee Bucks center Andrew Bogut and shooting guard Brad Newley, as the nucleus for the 2012 Australian Olympic team that hopes to qualify for the London Games.
Bennett said Mills showed in the Olympics that he can run a team at different speeds. One of the earlier criticisms of Mills was that he couldn't direct a team at a slower pace. His jump shot also was a concern, but he demonstrated his range in the quarterfinal game against the Americans, making 2-of-4 3s against the defense of point guards Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Jason Kidd.
"He's more in control, and his defense also improved," Bennett said.
Bennett isn't conceding losing Mills after this season, but the coach does anticipate that if Mills has a quality season, the point guard likely will leave school early. The high draft pick, the money and the desire to continue playing at an elite level would be too much for Mills to pass up.
Mills led the Gaels to the NCAAs this past season, averaging a team-high 14.8 points during the season. Saint Mary's (25-7 overall, 12-2 WCC) lost to seventh-seeded Miami (Fla.) in the first round in Little Rock, Ark.