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Peter Carry
February 16, 1970
To his mother Tom McMillen is a little boy, to college coaches he is very big, but everybody pursuing the most sought-after schoolboy since Alcindor agrees: approach him gingerly
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February 16, 1970

If You Want Tom, Easy Does It

To his mother Tom McMillen is a little boy, to college coaches he is very big, but everybody pursuing the most sought-after schoolboy since Alcindor agrees: approach him gingerly

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The other three McMillen children, John Paul, now working in a bank, Sheila, a sophomore at Penn, and Liz, a tall 8-year-old who may be the only girl her age who can execute a perfect reverse pivot, have not been left to their own resources. "This is my part of the house," says Margaret, waving her hand at the walls lined with books in her library and out toward the living room with its piano, organ and stack of instrument cases lying on the floor. "Up until a few years ago I didn't even know who Bob Cousy was."

Margaret rarely sees a game and, although she can cite a few names and statistics, she does not know the difference between a hook shot and a layup. "I'm satisfied with what Jay got out of basketball. He went to Maryland on an athletic scholarship and he had the opportunity to live in Italy and visit all the museums when he played for Padua's pro team," she says.

Recruiting and the hours Tom has spent replying to coaches' letters and answering their telephone calls prick Margaret's maternal instincts. Aside from Heidi, a 250-pound Saint Bernard who was trained by a state trooper, she is her son's most ardent protector. "I'm the drill sergeant around here," she says. "I guess I've gotten the reputation of an old ogre with a lot of the coaches, but some days I have to take the receiver off the hook to get my housework done and some evenings I wonder when Tom does his homework. They're not giving him enough free time."

Understandably, there are many recruiters who harbor no fondness for Margaret McMillen. She is severely blunt when she does not approve of their approaches and she was the driving force in persuading Tom to cut down his schedule of campus visits this fall.

"A boy can be spoiled by recruiting, his grades can be hurt by it and he can be drawn away from his other interests," says Margaret. "I want to raise a well-rounded young man, not an athletic bum."

Recruiters often simultaneously compare Tom to Lew Alcindor and Bill Bradley. Still growing, they believe, he may help the school he chooses to the same dominance of college basketball that UCLA enjoyed during Alcindor's varsity years. And, like Bradley, McMillen is a thoughtful student of the game and other things as well. He stands at the top of his class academically and is the president of the student council, the first trombonist in the school band, a prize-winning orator and perhaps the world's tallest altar boy.

In backyard games with Jay and in others at summer basketball camps where the competition is much tougher than it is at home in the Tioga County League, McMillen has proved himself agile enough to play away from the basket. He has the ball-handling skill and quick moves required to drive in to score and the deft touch needed to shoot long jump shots. His talents—including his left-handedness—are those of a larger, still unrefined Rick Barry.

McMillen wants to play forward in college, and most coaches agree it may be his best position, even though taking a 7-footer from underneath the basket is almost unheard of even in the pros. His only weaknesses—slight deficiencies in jumping ability and overall strength—could persuade a college coach to switch him from center, although the decision will not be an easy one, simply because McMillen has played so well at the position in high school. At a Christmas tournament in Johnstown, Pa. this season Mansfield played New York City's Power Memorial for the championship. Power, Alcindor's old school, is regarded by many as the best high school team in the country this year, and its center, Len Elmore, a 6'9", 230-pound leaping muscleman, is widely considered the No. 2 tall prospect behind McMillen. With potential college stars at three positions, Power defeated Mansfield by 16 points, but McMillen won his individual battle. Twenty pounds lighter than Elmore but much quicker, he used a few of his forward's tricks to draw his opponent into foul trouble and then outscored him 40-5. Using head fakes, rocking foot fakes and speed, McMillen moved past his defender for easy layups, hooks and scoop shots. It was no surprise that he won the outstanding player award. Unexpected was his 20-7 rebounding edge over the stronger, springier Elmore.

With every possibility open to him, McMillen is not about to pack off to any school without considering all the angles—including politics.

"I want to go to a school that's concerned with the students' problems," he says. "But I wouldn't want to go to a place like Columbia where they have had open violence. I feel an atmosphere like that would detract from my experience as a student and a player.

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