Down Underdogs (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday January 22, 2008 11:29AM; Updated: Wednesday January 23, 2008 1:27PM
Living in a country where basketball ranks below cricket and rugby in popularity and where NCAA games are rarely broadcast, most Australians don't grasp the college basketball pecking order, and that can be an advantage for nontraditional powers. "They don't know the difference between St. Mary's and UCLA, and we don't tell them," says Randy Bennett. "But they understand that getting recruited by the biggest school is not the most important thing. You have to develop a relationship. They are leaving their homes, their families. They have to be certain it's a good fit."
Ogilvy was pursued by about 15 schools, Mills by about six. "Here's what typically happens with the AIS kids," says St. Mary's assistant David Patrick, who grew up and played professionally in Australia. "American coaches go to the Internet, and they look at the AIS [roster]. Then they recruit the kids who are tall. It's not usually a place you go to get a point guard, because you can find those kids here."
Gaels coach Randy Bennett is an exception. He has long tapped the Aussie pipeline for players of all sizes. He signed Daniel Kickert, a 6' 10" center, in 2002 and Adam Caporn, a 6' 3" guard, a year earlier. Two other AIS products, guard Carlin Hughes and forward Lucas Walker, joined the team this year after transferring from Montana State-Billings, and a third, center Ben Allen, is sitting out this year after leaving Indiana. Bennett was the only head coach who visited Mills's parents, Benny and Yvonne, but when Patty boarded a flight to visit U.S. schools in the fall of 2006, Utah was his first stop. While he was in the air, however, Utah got a commitment from another guard and no longer had a scholarship available. Mills then flew to the Bay Area, decided he liked St. Mary's and ended up signing there. "I'm sure there are a hundred Division I programs that are kicking themselves for not recruiting him harder," says Washington State's Johnson.
Utah and then coach Ray Giacoletti also recruited Ogilvy but gave up on him when 6' 9" junior college center Nemanja Calasan committed to the Utes. That same day, Giacoletti happened to be on the phone with Stallings, a good friend. "Kevin asked, 'Is there anybody else out there in the big spot?' I told him to follow up on Ogilvy because we couldn't do anything with him," says Giacoletti, who's now an assistant at Gonzaga.
Ogilvy chose Vanderbilt over New Mexico, UNLV and St. Mary's, and his presence in the middle has helped get open looks on the perimeter for the Commodores' guards. The friendly, bespectacled Aussie is beloved in Nashville for his work ethic, his easy humor and his utter lack of a sense of entitlement. No matter how hard Stallings has been on him or his teammates, Ogilvy thanks his coach after every practice.
Ogilvy, who has gone by A.J. ever since he was three months old, when his older brother, Damien, and sister, Lisa, bought him an Air Jordan hat that said AJ23, played a half-dozen sports growing up and was promising enough in tennis that Damien, a tennis coach, thought he might star in that. "I tried to balance the two, but basketball ended up taking over," says Ogilvy.
After representing New South Wales in the U-18 National Basketball Championships, Ogilvy earned a scholarship to the AIS when he was 16. His dorm neighbor was the 15-year-old Mills, another prodigy. (Most players start at age 17 and stay for two years; Mills and Ogilvy both attended for three.) Mills had started playing basketball 11 years earlier at the Shadows Basketball Club, a team in Canberra for indigenous people that Benny, a Torres Strait Islander, and his mom, Yvonne, an Aborigine, helped found 20 years ago and still run. At age 4 1/2, Patty was playing with the Shadows' under-10s. "We'd let him in for a minute or two at the end of every half because he was really keen to get on the court," says Benny.
Like Ogilvy, Mills played other sports, but also like Ogilvy, his childhood dream was to play for the Boomers in the Olympics. No indigenous player has made the Australian Olympic basketball team since Benny's cousin Dan Morseu, Mills's role model, played shooting guard for the Boomers at the 1980 and '84 Games.
Mills took a step toward realizing his dream this summer when he became the youngest-ever member of the Aussie national team, scoring 17 points in a win against New Zealand that sealed a berth for Australia in Beijing. He has a good shot at making the Olympic team next summer, and beyond that, after college, he hopes to play in the NBA. There is a whole community of people back home for whom he wants to set new standards, new goals.
"The way other basketballers have looked up to Andrew Bogut, I hope indigenous people will look up to me," he says. "If he hadn't taken that path, I don't think many Australians would have come over to college. So now, knowing that he's in the NBA, other players are saying, 'Let me have a go at it; let me try it to see if I can do that.' That's exactly the message I hope to send to the indigenous community."
There should be no worries on that count. As Ogilvy and the Gaels can attest, Mills is usually right on target when giving an assist.
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