When Canberra basketballer Patrick Mills talks about turning his ”window of opportunity into something big”, it’s got nothing to do with the million-dollar contracts in the NBA.
The only prize Mills has his eyes on is an NBA championship.
The San Antonio Spurs are targeting finals redemption after being beaten by the star-studded Miami Heat in the championship series last year.
Mills’ NBA stocks have risen following outstanding performances in the past two months and he’s thriving on more responsibility while Spurs’ All Star point guard Tony Parker is injured.
His career-best form is set to earn him the biggest pay-day of his career, but Mills will delay contract negotiations until after the season to focuses on his championship dream.
Mills’ two-year contract with the Spurs, worth $1.133 million a season, is about to end but the former Marist College student says he is focused on team success with 25 games remaining in the regular season.
Mills was the top-scorer of all players at the Olympic Games in London two years ago, but until this season he was best known for his enthusiastic towel-waving in the NBA.
Mills will become a free agent at the end of the season and his strong campaign will likely result in a pay rise, with some experts predicting a potential increase to $3 million a year.
”To be honest I’m not too sure how it works, but that’s exactly my mindset at the moment,” Mills said.
”I’m not worrying at all at the moment. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
”But we’re focused on getting back to the NBA championship series, you don’t want any other distractions getting in the way of that.”
The speedy point guard, in his fifth NBA season, has bought a house in San Antonio and is in career-best form under the guidance of coach Gregg Popovich.
Mills’ NBA future was clouded before finding his feet at the Spurs, forcing his way into the regular rotation and playing all 57 games so far this season.
”I’ve always believed that I want to play in the NBA and I should be in the league,” Mills said.
Mills has cemented his place in the Spurs’ regular rotation this season and has relished the chance to spend more time on the court.
Parker is battling injuries, opening the door for Mills to earn his place as a regular contributor.
Mills averaged 16.5 points per game in February and has played in every game this season.
”You never know when a chance is going to come around again so you’ve got to take it, make the most of it and turn the window of opportunity into something big,” Mills said.
”I still understand I have a lot of hard work to do to contribute to team goals … It’s been a mentally challenging season.”
Mills earned a cult following last year for his enthusiastic, celebratory towel-waving from the Spurs’ bench, but he wants to earn on-court respect.
”Last year was a different role, I didn’t want to sit down and sulk. My way of contributing then was picking up a towel.
”This way it’s different. I want to be in the NBA to play, I feel like I can do that and it’s all about earning the right to play on such a great Spurs team.”
Spurs coaching staff wanted Mills to return to training faster, fitter and stronger.
So the pint-size point guard started with trying to get a better understanding of his body to get him in peak physical condition.
He hired a personal chef for two months to teach him how to cook and the importance of nutrition.
Mills also gave up guilty pleasures such as strawberry milk, cheese and pasta. ”It’s just about knowing how to eat and what to eat … what to put in my body,” Mills said.
”I put myself on a strict diet from about April. I got a chef in to cook meals for the first few months of the diet and to teach about the food, what to eat and when.
”After getting the hang of it, I’m still going strong now. I wanted a better understanding of nutrition and being a professional athlete.”
Mills said his off-court life had given him a greater understanding of what he needed to do on the court.
”My strawberry milk is gone … it was interesting and fun knowing what your body does and doesn’t need. Now I understand what I need to do to play on a team like this after having two seasons with [coach Popovich] and San Antonio, I know this is what I need to do.
‘The biggest part I’ve noticed is I’ve been able to play a lot stronger for longer periods of time.”
The Spurs fell agonisingly short of an NBA title last season, losing to the LeBron James-led Miami Heat in the championship series.
Mills missed the end of the series with a mystery foot injury, but a brief taste of the action last year has made him hungrier for success.
The Spurs sit second in the western conference as the regular season nears its end.
”The play-offs count the most, that’s what I work hard for. I want to contribute during the season and at the end when it matters the most,” Mills said.
”I’ve still got to prove that I can contribute at the end of the season. I hope that I can have an effect, I believe I can and that I can make a contribution.”
Luc Longley and Andrew Gaze are the only Australians to have been part of an NBA championship triumph.
”We [the Spurs] all know how salty it tastes to lose one, we got so close last year and now we’re hungry to get back there and change it.”
AIS star Dante Exum has nominated for the NBA draft and is in the US meeting with teams, preparing to launch his career.
The 18-year-old decided to bypass the traditional route of playing college basketball first.
Mills and Exum teamed up for Australia last year and Mills has contacted the teenage powerhouse to offer advice as he enters the NBA world of superstars and megabucks.
Exum is projected to be one of the top picks in the draft, which will earn him a million-dollar contract.
”From what I’ve seen he’s a very impressive athlete … he’s already making a name for himself over here and there’s no doubt he’ll go high in the draft,” Mills said.
”It’s great for him and great for basketball in Australia. There’s no down-playing how highly he’s rated.
”Every time they talk about the draft, they talk about him in the top five picks. He’s got great potential … coming through the AIS program gives him a headstart. From what I’ve seen, he has what it takes. He’s got the right mindset to be a professional athlete. I know how hectic it gets, so I’ll be there for anything he needs.”
The Australian Boomers have helped launch Mills’ career and the AIS graduate believes the national team is on the cusp of being a contender for medals at the world championships this year. The Boomers have four players in the NBA – Mills, Andrew Bogut, Matthew Dellavedova and Aron Baynes – with the prospect of Exum joining them next season.
Mills met with Boomers coach Andrej Lemanis in San Antonio earlier this week to start plans for the world championships in Spain from August 30 to September 14.
”Hopefully we can do something for Australian basketball and do something that a men’s basketball team has never done before [and win a medal],” Mills said. ”We knew at the last Olympics that we would have a core young group that could be really strong over the next few years, this is us growing up and maturing now.”
The 2008 Beijing Olympics launched Mills on to the NBA radar and the 2012 Olympics confirmed his status as a potential star.
Mills scored 127 points in six matches at the London Olympics.
The Boomers will play France, Greece and Turkey in the group stages.
Eight of Mills’ Spurs teammates will also play in the competition, with Mills set to square off against All Star French guard Parker.
”The trash talking has already started about who’s playing who, but that’s fun,” Mills said.
”I really do think we’ve got a chance at this world championships. The group is very ripe and will grow and develop more from this.”
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.