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Chaplain with a Decent Jump Shot
Jeff Pearlman
March 22, 1999
Former Kentucky guard Cameron Mills counsels his onetime teammates
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March 22, 1999

Chaplain With A Decent Jump Shot

Former Kentucky guard Cameron Mills counsels his onetime teammates

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You are a young man with very limited sexual experience. Not only are you tall, sculptured and handsome, but also until recently you were a key member of one of the most famous basketball teams in the country. Every so often, when she's bored and lonely and not much is going on, Ashley Judd stops by your hotel room—in her pajamas.

What are you thinking, reclining on your bed with Ashley late at night, pillow talking? Where is your attention? Your focus?

The University of Kentucky team chaplain, a fellow by the name of Cameron Mills, has been face-to-face with Judd in her pajamas in his hotel room. "Oh, Ashley's a friend of mine," he says. "She's a big Kentucky supporter." He still does not get it. Ashley Judd! In your hotel room! Wink-wink. "Ohhh," says Mills. "No way. She's just a friend. I would never think like that."

There is a reason Mills, 23 and one year removed from his senior season with the Wildcats, was asked by coach Tubby Smith to volunteer as the team's chaplain. "Cameron was the spiritual leader of this team as a player," says Smith. "I wanted him to continue in that role."

Mills, who's finishing the final three credits toward his psychology degree, may be the youngest chaplain in the history of organized collegiate sports. He talks God with players over the phone and regularly takes individual players out to lunch for one-on-one Bible discussions. He leads the team prayer, and four hours before each home game (and road games within driving distance), he gives a 10-minute sermon in which he reads a passage from the Bible and then explains how it relates to the modern-day Kentucky athlete. When Mills rises, clears his throat and opens the book, there is total silence. All coaches and the 13 players (including Jules Camara, a practicing Muslim) usually attend. "There are fans who worship Kentucky basketball players," says senior forward Scott Padgett. "Cameron has made it clear that we should worship God like they worship us."

It is, Mills concedes, an odd arrangement. Last year at this time, he bore witness to every "Damn!" and " Jesus Christ!" Kentucky players uttered. "Cameron's our age, but every player here listens to him because we know the way he lives his life," Padgett says. "He's not holier than thou. If you could eliminate all the small things most of us do—telling that little white lie, cursing—we'd be just like him. But Cameron's above all that. He's the guy you'd want your kid to be like."

Raised in Lexington, Mills always longed to play for the Wildcats (his father, Terry, lettered at Kentucky from 1969 to '71), but he wasn't recruited by Rick Pitino, Kentucky's coach in the early and mid-'90s. In '94 Mills was prepared to accept a scholarship at Georgia, but at the last minute he decided to walk on at Kentucky.

Through running, weight training and hours of empty-gym jump shots, he became a player. Not a superstar. Not even a starter. But a shooting guard who last season averaged 11.2 minutes and 4.4 points. In Kentucky's win over Utah for the NCAA title, Mills scored eight points, including two three-pointers. "He's overcome a lot," says Smith. "Plus, Cameron's always been genuine. I knew the kids would listen to him because they respect him."

Mills didn't study theology. During his time at Kentucky, however, he became known as a sort of moral authority. Churches and civic groups brought him in to speak. His lectures, about chastity and Christ, drew raves. Last May he took some time, prayed about his future and made a decision: He would serve God through outreach. In June, Cameron Mills Ministries was born. "I love the game of basketball," says Mills, "but I love Jesus more. My life is God."

When he is not with the team, Mills travels from town to town, mostly throughout the Southeast, with Johnny Pittman, a Cameron Mills Ministries road pastor, speaking in churches and schools. Mills's salary of $24,000 is paid by his ministry, which is a nonprofit organization. It raises money through donations, church collections and the sale of inspirational T-shirts and hats (as well as Mills's autobiography, A Dream Come True). Mills and Pittman, a 26-year-old former car salesman, make an unusual pair. Mills, as wholesome-looking as a member of The Waltons, and Pittman, with his shaved head, goatee, silver hoop earrings in both ears and two large tattoos, roam the highways together in an SUV (license plate: 2JESUS). In a typical week the two have four to six engagements. Mills is not yet a great orator, but he's getting there. Most important, he is the real thing.

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