Living in a
country where basketball ranks below cricket and rugby in popularity and where
NCAA games are rarely broadcast, most Australians don't grasp the college
basketball pecking order, and that can be an advantage for nontraditional
powers. "They don't know the difference between St. Mary's and UCLA, and we
don't tell them," says Randy Bennett. "But they understand that getting
recruited by the biggest school is not the most important thing. You have to
develop a relationship. They are leaving their homes, their families. They have
to be certain it's a good fit."
Ogilvy was pursued
by about 15 schools, Mills by about six. "Here's what typically happens
with the AIS kids," says St. Mary's assistant David Patrick, who grew up
and played professionally in Australia. "American coaches go to the
Internet, and they look at the AIS [roster]. Then they recruit the kids who are
tall. It's not usually a place you go to get a point guard, because you can
find those kids here."
GAELS COACH Randy
Bennett is an exception. He has long tapped the Aussie pipeline for players of
all sizes. He signed Daniel Kickert, a 6'10" center, in 2002 and Adam
Caporn, a 6'3" guard, a year earlier. Two other AIS products, guard Carlin
Hughes and forward Lucas Walker, joined the team this year after transferring
from Montana State--Billings, and a third, center Ben Allen, is sitting out
this year after leaving Indiana. Bennett was the only head coach who visited
Mills's parents, Benny and Yvonne, but when Patty boarded a flight to visit
U.S. schools in the fall of 2006, Utah was his first stop. While he was in the
air, however, Utah got a commitment from another guard and no longer had a
scholarship available. Mills then flew to the Bay Area, decided he liked St.
Mary's and ended up signing there. "I'm sure there are a hundred Division I
programs that are kicking themselves for not recruiting him harder," says
Washington State's Johnson.
Utah and then
coach Ray Giacoletti also recruited Ogilvy but gave up on him when 6'9"
junior college center Nemanja Calasan committed to the Utes. That same day,
Giacoletti happened to be on the phone with Stallings, a good friend.
"Kevin asked, 'Is there anybody else out there in the big spot?' I told him
to follow up on Ogilvy because we couldn't do anything with him," says
Giacoletti, who's now an assistant at Gonzaga.
Vanderbilt over New Mexico, UNLV and St. Mary's, and his presence in the middle
has helped get open looks on the perimeter for the Commodores' guards. The
friendly, bespectacled Aussie is beloved in Nashville for his work ethic, his
easy humor and his utter lack of a sense of entitlement. No matter how hard
Stallings has been on him or his teammates, Ogilvy thanks his coach after every
Ogilvy, who has
gone by A.J. ever since he was three months old, when his older brother,
Damien, and sister, Lisa, bought him an Air Jordan hat that said aj23, played a
half-dozen sports growing up and was promising enough in tennis that Damien, a
tennis coach, thought he might star in that. "I tried to balance the two,
but basketball ended up taking over," says Ogilvy.
New South Wales in the U-18 National Basketball Championships, Ogilvy earned a
scholarship to the AIS when he was 16. His dorm neighbor was the 15-year-old
Mills, another prodigy. (Most players start at age 17 and stay for two years;
Mills and Ogilvy both attended for three.) Mills had started playing basketball
11 years earlier at the Shadows Basketball Club, a team in Canberra for
indigenous people that Benny, a Torres Strait Islander, and his mom, Yvonne, an
Aborigine, helped found 20 years ago and still run. At age 4 1/2, Patty was
playing with the Shadows' under-10s. "We'd let him in for a minute or two
at the end of every half because he was really keen to get on the court,"
Like Ogilvy, Mills
played other sports, but also like Ogilvy, his childhood dream was to play for
the Boomers in the Olympics. No indigenous player has made the Australian
Olympic basketball team since Benny's cousin Dan Morseu, Mills's role model,
played shooting guard for the Boomers at the 1980 and '84 Games.
Mills took a step
toward realizing his dream this summer when he became the youngest-ever member
of the Aussie national team, scoring 17 points in a win against New Zealand
that sealed a berth for Australia in Beijing. He has a good shot at making the
Olympic team next summer, and beyond that, after college, he hopes to play in
the NBA. There is a whole community of people back home for whom he wants to
set new standards, new goals.
"The way other
basketballers have looked up to Andrew Bogut, I hope indigenous people will
look up to me," he says. "If he hadn't taken that path, I don't think
many Australians would have come over to college. So now, knowing that he's in
the NBA, other players are saying, 'Let me have a go at it; let me try it to
see if I can do that.' That's exactly the message I hope to send to the