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Olympian Mills gets back to grind

Sept. 11, 2008

By Curtis Pashelka
San Jose Mercury

MORAGA, Calif. -- Save for a few days of facial hair growth, Patty Mills on Wednesday looked and sounded like the same mild-mannered guy who made an immediate impact for the St. Mary's College men's basketball team last season.

But Gaels coach Randy Bennett knows better.

"He already had (confidence and high self-esteem), but I think it'll go to another level," Bennett said as he sat beside his star point guard at a small news conference. "His understanding of leadership will go to another level. ... That's what we'll gain out of this. I don't (his improvement) will come in a statistical category. I think It'll come in leadership."

Less than three weeks after his eye-opening performance for Australia's national team at the Beijing Olympics, Mills was back on the serene St. Mary's campus Wednesday morning as he began his readjustment to college life as a sophomore.

Mills, though, said he's not quite the player or person he was before the start of the Olympics, where he came off the bench to average a team-high 14.2 points per game in helping the Boomers advance to the quarterfinal round against Team USA.

Against a star-studded American roster, Mills had 20 points, three steals and two assists during Australia's 116-85 loss. After the quarterfinal game, U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said he was glad his Duke team didn't play St. Mary's this season and believed Mills was a future NBA player.

All-Stars Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul also were complimentary during the postgame news conference, but Mills said he was only given a certain amount of respect on the court.

"Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade ... I had no idea what they were like," Mills said. "They had some pretty nasty words and comments for me during the game. I didn't back down, but I was like, 'That's Chris Paul talking to me.' "

Mills' performance in Beijing has led some to believe that this could be St. Mary's best team in the 101-year history of the program. The Gaels lost only two significant players from last season's team -- guards Todd Golden and Tron Smith -- that had a record-tying 25 wins and advanced to the NCAA Tournament.

Besides Mills, St. Mary's returns its entire starting frontcourt in Diamon Simpson, Omar Samhan and Ian O'Leary. Wayne Hunter and Indiana transfer Ben Allen figure to play prominent roles after redshirting last season, and freshmen Collin Chiverton and Tim Williams could bolster an already strong supporting cast.

Mills' play at the Olympics also has led to speculation that this season will be his last with St. Mary's, as some online 2009 NBA mock drafts list him as a first-round pick.

Mills, however, said his sole focus these days is helping the Gaels win the West Coast Conference and get back to the NCAA Tournament.

"It was definitely a massive challenge that I faced and one that I learned a lot from," Mills said of the Olympics. "That's where I come in and try to pass what I've learned onto the boys here."