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Down Underdogs

A pair of Australians, A.J. Ogilvy of Vanderbilt and Patty Mills of St. Mary's (which suits up four Aussies), lifted rarely celebrated teams into the limelight

Posted: Tuesday January 22, 2008 11:29AM; Updated: Wednesday January 23, 2008 1:27PM
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Aussies Mills (13), Allen, Hughes and Walker are a Gaels force.
Aussies Mills (13), Allen, Hughes and Walker are a Gaels force.
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Poetry in motion. That's what Patrick (Patty) Mills says he and Andrew Ogilvy created as they ran the court together at the Australian Institute of Sport last year. Mills would push the ball on a break, whistle to Ogilvy and loft an alley-oop pass toward the rim. With perfect, practiced timing, Ogilvy would appear on the wing: step, catch, dunk.

"It really was like that," says Ogilvy, now a freshman center at Vanderbilt. "I don't know how, but we were always able to find each other."

The two mates are 2,000 miles apart now on the other side of the world, but they still know where to find each other -- on TV, on the Internet, in the headlines, filling up NCAA box scores. "After a game he'll send me a message, 'Congrats on the win,' " says Mills, now a freshman point guard at St. Mary's in Moraga, Calif. "I'll send him one: 'Great job, saw you on TV -- in America, of all places.' "

Ever since Andrew Bogut, a 7-footer out of Melbourne, was named college basketball's 2005 national player of the year as a sophomore at Utah and went No. 1 in that June's NBA draft, America, of all places, has become the destination of choice for many of Australia's best young hoops talents. According to Basketball Australia, the organizing body for the sport Down Under, the number of Aussies on college rosters has risen tenfold from a decade ago, with some 200 Australian men and women playing in the U.S. this year, including 33 in the men's NCAA Division I. Among them is a crew of high-achieving upperclassmen that includes three-time All-Big 12 honoree Aaron Bruce, a 6' 3" senior point guard at Baylor whose smart, selfless play has helped spark the 15-2 Bears' revival; Nebraska senior All-America candidate Aleks Maric, a 6' 11", 275-pound center whose 16.6 points and 8.2 rebounds a game through Sunday were leading the 11-5 Huskers; 7-foot junior center Luke Nevill, who was pacing 10-6 Utah with 13.6 points and 7.3 rebounds a game; and, most prominently, 6' 10", 270-pound junior center Aron Baynes of sixth-ranked Washington State (15-1). Told last spring by Cougars coach Tony Bennett that his team would only be as good as he was, Baynes, a brawny former rugby player from Cairns -- "He's a beast," says Washington forward Jon Brockman -- dropped 20 pounds and is now a critical contributor in Pullman, averaging 12.1 points and 6.4 rebounds a game.

But no Australian, not even Bogut in his day, has had the immediate impact of Ogilvy and Mills, who have lifted two rarely celebrated teams into the limelight and conference title contention. Ogilvy, a 6' 10", 250-pound 19-year-old from Sydney, is Vanderbilt's first bona fide, game-altering center since Will Perdue graduated 20 years ago. He has great hands and quick feet, and thanks in part to the lessons he learned going up against Baynes daily at the AIS for a year, he's well-schooled in the subtleties of post positioning. "He is as fundamentally sound as any big guy his age I've ever seen," says Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings. And rare for a big guy of any age, Ogilvy can shoot free throws: He gets to the line more than seven times a game and makes good on nearly 80% of his shots. Through Sunday he was averaging 18.5 points and 6.8 rebounds a game for the 14th-ranked Commodores, who were off to a surprising 17-2 start.

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