10 May 2023

Going for Gold: Patty Mills out to lead Boomers

| Cape York Weekly
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PATRICK MILLS sunk his first basket on Thursday Island, but his journey to international stardom has rarely been in the Torres Strait. Over the next two weeks, he will attempt to lead the Boomers to a historic medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

Australia has never won a gold medal on the basketball court.

In fact, the men’s team hasn’t won any kind of Olympics medal.

Patty Mills hopes that will change on August 7 as he attempts to lead the Boomers to the podium at the Tokyo Games.

The 32-year-old is at his fourth Olympics and hopes that the team can go all the way to win gold in what is a wide-open tournament.

The Americans, who hadn’t lost at an Olympics since 2004, were pipped by France in their opening match on Sunday night.

They were also rolled by both Nigeria and Australia in warm-up matches.

The Boomers, still reeling from a one-point loss to Spain in the 2016 Olympics bronze medal match, have assembled their best squad in history and are determined to return with a souvenir.

Mills led Australia to victory in an error-riddled opening match on Sunday night, scoring 25 points and nailing five three-pointers in a 17-point win over Nigeria.

“(We) obviously didn’t play as well as we would have liked,” Mills said post-game.

“What we’re trying to do here is team effort and everyone playing their part, and that’s what we did today. We talk about staying in the trenches together.

“That’s what this game was all about. This is what this whole tournament is going to be about.”

Next up, Australia will face Italy on Wednesday night.

On the basketball court, Mills has virtually done it all, having won an NBA championship with the San Antonio Spurs and established himself as a leader of the Texas franchise.

The only thing that’s left to tick off is an Olympics medal.

Mills has done his bit. At his first Games, in Beijing 2008, he led the Boomers’ scoring.

At his second, in London 2012, he led the tournament in points per game, highlighted by a three-pointer on the buzzer to defeat Russia for a place in the quarter-finals.

At his most recent Olympics, in Rio 2016, the veteran notched 30 points in the bronze medal match against Spain.

Not bad for a kid who grew up as a bit of an outsider.

Patty was raised in Canberra and was taught at a young age to be proud of his Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage.

“My parents played a little basketball growing up, and so did my uncles and aunties,” Mills said.

“But they went to Canberra and being in a government place, there wasn’t a lot of black people at all.

“So when they came for work, they started a basketball club only for black people (The Shadows) so they could be in an environment where they could feel comfortable with other people like them.

“It kind of grew. I was born into this basketball club. They were on a team with people like them, which was different than going to work with all these other white people.

“My first game I had no clue what was going on, but I was happy to be with other people who were like me; the same colour.

“It was unbelievable. I played with that club all the way until college.”

When Mills was a toddler, he used to shoot at a hoop outside his grandfather’s home on Thursday Island.

His parents met while they were working in the Australian capital of Canberra in Indigenous affairs for the federal government.

Father Benny is from Mer and Dauar Islands. His grandfather is from Naghir Island.

His mum Yvonne grew up in country South Australia. Her mother’s family is from the Koonibba Mission, while her mother’s father was Kokatha and her mother’s mother was Mirning.

After high school, Patty went off to America to attend college on a basketball scholarship.

In 2009, he was drafted to the Portland Trail Blazers with pick 55 in the NBA Draft.

He would complete two seasons in Oregon before finding his way back to Australia to play in the NBL as a result of a strike between the NBA players and the league.

His class was clear in just the handful of weeks he spent on the court for the Melbourne Tigers and Mills was eventually picked up by Chinese franchise Xinjiang Flying Tigers on a big-money deal.

But when the NBA lockout ended, the point guard returned to the United States, signing a deal with San Antonio.

There were flashes of brilliance for the Spurs, but Mills was largely known for his antics on the bench as he mastered the art of towel waving in support of his teammates.

“He was a little fat ass,” legendary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich once said of Mills when he arrived in San Antonio.

“He had too much junk in the trunk. His decision making wasn’t great, and he wasn’t in great shape.

“He changed his entire body. He came back svelte and cut and understood you have to make better decisions, point-guard type decisions.

“He did all those things better and he earned it. He’s been real important to us, obviously.”

After winning the NBA championship with Mareeba product Aron Baynes in 2014, Mills has become one of the most reliable guards in the NBA.

“Patty has become the spiritual leader of our team. He is the greatest teammate and he is always positive,” Popovich said.

It will be that leadership that drives Australia in these Olympic Games, to be played in front of no fans in the stadium.

“It is going to be tough. It is going to be different,” Mills said prior to the first game.

“It is something athletes aren’t completely used to but at the end of the day it’s just another hurdle, just another bump in the road, an adversity that athletes usually deal with on almost a daily basis.

“Professionals at this level understand that and are able to quickly flick into a mindset of, ‘OK, I acknowledge this adversity, how do I get through it, or around it or over it?’

“I think a lot of that kicks in as well when you have the Australian spirit behind you, and I know that’s a clichéd thing to say, but it’s something I definitely use very strongly, especially at this level, in this environment.

“At the end of the day, this is the Olympic Games. It is the largest sporting event in the world. It’s a big stage no matter if there’s fans there or not.”

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