Mills leading Kentucky in an entirely different manner
Posted: Wednesday March 17, 1999 10:03 PM
LEXINGTON, Ky. (CNN/SI) -- In Kentucky, basketball is about as close to religion as you can get. Ask a native of the Bluegrass State where you can find the nearest place of worship and they're likely to point you in the direction of Rupp Arena.
Out of that famed Kentucky religion, one of its most revered parishioners has heeded the call.
Cameron Mills, who helped the Wildcats to last season's National Championship, has gone from role-playing walk-on to soul-saving chaplain of the men's basketball team.
"They tell me he's the team chaplain," Kentucky athletics director C.M. Newton said. "Well, he was kind of the team chaplain when he played."
An ordained minister, Mills tours the country, speaking to church groups, high schools and other youth organizations. But when speaking, Mills won't focus on his playing days, instead he uses Kentucky basketball as a hook, a way to get himself in tune with the audience.
"Once I'm there I just talk about Jesus Christ," Mills said. "If I do mention UK basketball, it's only to talk about the ring. Which is to say it's nice, it's heavy, it's pretty, it's shiny, but it's nothing. I enjoy it, I'm glad I have it, but I'd much rather you knew about Jesus Christ than the National Championship."
Mills was apprehensive at first about taking the job of chaplain, declining coach Tubby Smithís offer on several occasions before finally accepting the position. His main concern was how the players on the Kentucky team, many of them his teammates the season before, would take to his spiritual guidance.
"I just feel like he's a reverend, you know, from a church that's coming to speak to us," Wildcats senior guard Wayne Turner said. "Outside of the meetings I know that's Cameron -- one of the guys I used to pass the ball to, one of the greatest shooters on our team. But during the ceremony it's like he's a totally different person."
Mills, though, doesnít want to come off as a totally different person to his teammates. He wants to be known as the same Cameron Mills that was a there for the Wildcats as a teammate.
And for that, he has a special formula.
"You know what, it's been more listening than giving advice," Mills said. "I never want to be someone who is preachy even though I am a preacher."
Mills has been following the path of the righteous since he was a 7-year old watching the 700 Club on television in his hometown of Somerset, Ky.
"Kids called him, well my friends called him John the Baptist because he was very confrontational," said Lorri Mills, Cameronís mother. "He was very outspoken about his beliefs and not afraid to take a stand."
Perhaps it was that fearless attitude that allowed him to knock down shot after shot in the "Comeback 'Cats" run to the 1998 NCAA title. Mills scored eight points in Kentuckyís 78-69 NCAA final win over Utah, hitting two crucial three-pointers that helped the Wildcats claw back from a double-digit deficit.
But it was Millsí actions on the bench, hands clasped in prayer as Kentucky fought its way to its second national title in three years, that was one of the lasting images of that tournament.
"I don't believe that God, because of my prayer, would say, 'UK is going to win because Cameron is praying for it.' I don't believe that," said Mills, who only averaged 4.4 points a game his senior season. "Now do I believe that we won the national championship because of God? Yes. Did he allow us to win? Yes. Did he have a great, divine purpose in all of it? Yes. I believe that."
Mills' Mom and dad remain close to him and his business venture, the Cameron Mills Ministries. Cameron's dad, Terry, a former stand-out player at Kentucky heads up the Board of Directors while Cameron's mom Lorri is the secretary.
"He's booked all over the United States for the next six months," Lorri Mills said. "It's really hard when churches call and want him to come speak and we don't have room for them."
In a year that has seen Kentucky athletics suffer through two drunk-driving related fatalities and several other drinking-related arrests in the past year, Mills has been asked to serve as a big brother and mentor to this class of Wildcats.
"I want to be the guy they call when they need someone to talk to," Mills said. "I was very blessed to live 5 miles from home. When I had a problem, I came home and talked to mom and dad. These guys don't necessarily have that."
So Mills assumed the role of spiritual advisor to the players he helped lead to the championship of college basketball a year ago.
Now he hopes to lead them to an even higher place -- to another national championship.
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