"I don't think it would even cross his mind," Rich concluded.
McMillen, who is not a bit shy about his height—"A guy's got to be proud Tie's tall"—nervously stares at his shoe-tops at the mention of girls. He says girls will always be around, but the opportunity to be a star player and student will not. To which his mother says, "Tom is just a little boy."
McMillen's bedroom is crammed with files full of clippings, pamphlets and note cards on school subjects, exercising, playing techniques and healthy eating. He writes out daily schedules on how much to study, practice, sleep and eat. Fortunately, his meticulousness is occasionally knocked askew by his boyishness.
On a Friday night before the basketball season began, McMillen spent half an hour discussing his eating habits, repeatedly referring to wheat-germ oil, diet supplements and high-energy foods. The next day, after missing his breakfast because he was on the phone with coaches, he marched two miles in a parade and played at a football halftime with the school band. Returning home in the midafternoon, he gulped down a huge wedge of coconut-iced layer cake and half a Boston cream pie, from which he had carefully shaved off the chocolate frosting. Washing it all down with several glasses of milk, he said, "I don't really like cake." He then bolted out the back door for six games of three-on-two in the driveway. That evening he drove with his parents 25 miles for dinner at a Continental restaurant. Barely glancing at the menu, Tom ordered and ate half a dozen snails, a bowl of kangaroo-tail soup, a Chateaubriand for two, several French pastries and, between tastes of his parents' dishes, various rolls and vegetables.
The meal was an obvious release for McMillen, who had grown bone weary of the recruiters. He feared they were beginning to take the edge off his basketball game and his chances to graduate at the head of his class. By Sunday afternoon, thoroughly fatigued, he slumped into a chair when he should have been finishing an English paper on chivalry in Malory. "Oh boy, I'm getting tired," he said. "I'm looking forward to the shelter of the season. When you meet new people, it gets to be a real drag. It's the same spiel every time. They aren't interested in you as a personality, only as a basketball player."
McMillen's experience is similar to the one the Knicks' Bill Bradley was subjected to as a high-schooler some years earlier and which he described recently.
"I didn't sleep at all for a week while I tried to make up my mind," said Bradley of his last-minute switch from Duke to Princeton. "Even my father couldn't convince me to go ahead and do what I wanted. It wasn't until a couple of years later that someone explained to me that the letter of intent wasn't a question of morals. It is just a tool used by coaches to tamper with the minds of teen-age boys. It is simply part of a system that is much larger and very distasteful."
The coaches will have another month of open season on Tom McMillen between the end of Mansfield's schedule and mid-April, when McMillen expects to end the whole business with his signature on somebody's letter of intent. "I'm not looking forward to that month," he says. "I wish it were over."
If McMillen has been sleeping less this year, his grades have not shown it and neither has his scoring. He has averaged 46.2 points a game and shot 77% from the floor. More likely, it is the coaches with fresh memories of Alcindor's three-year domination of college championships who are not resting well. Only one of them can have McMillen. The others should lose a lot of sleep two years from now figuring out ways to stop a 7-foot sophomore with moves so sophisticated that he can train on snails.