Ex-Mercer standout Mills ready to move from court to sideline

mlough@macon.comJune 19, 2014 

Mercer

Mercer senior forward Brian Mills takes the court during player introductions at the start of Mercer's game against Lipscomb in the Atlantic Sun Tournament at the Mercer University Center in Macon Thursday night.

GRANT BLANKENSHIP/THE TELEGRAPH — Grant Blankenship/The Telegraph

Brian Mills hasn’t had to listen or pay attention to Bob Hoffman since early March of 2011.

That doesn’t mean he has stopped.

The former Mercer men’s basketball standout graduated in 2011, yet sat on the sidelines earlier this week as the Bears went through a workout and was pretty focused on watching his former head coach and assistants run the 2014-15 version of the Bears through an assortment of drills.

It brought back memories -- he could empathize with those getting yelled at -- but it was also part of the learning process.

“I could probably go out there and run ‘5 on 0’ right now,” Mills said with a laugh after a session of Hoffman’s day camp was followed by a Mercer session. “Same system. It’s the same action.”

After three seasons of playing professional basketball in Europe, Mills has decided it’s time to move on and put that in the rearview mirror. And it appears coaching is next on the career agenda.

“I hope so,” said Mills, who was working at Hoffman’s camp, which ended Thursday. “I’m excited about the next stage.”

Mills has worked at Mercer summer camps since graduating, a way to pick up some money, learn more about basketball, get in a few workouts and revisit his alma mater.

This time around, he’s paying a little more attention. Mills has a few in-state possibilities for his coaching debut, neither of which would be on Mercer’s schedule.

Mills played under Hoffman for three seasons, earning A-Sun all-conference honors as a senior when the Bears went 15-18. It was during that season that Mercer began to develop into the team that went 78-32 in the next three seasons, with the senior-heavy group turning in the historic season in 2013-14.

Mills was a key part of that progress.

“It’s a long, long process,” he said. “Obviously Mercer was the talk of the (NCAA) tournament, but it was years and years in the making.”

Mills began his pro career with Lusitania Angra Patrimonio Mudial in Portugal and averaged 14.9 points and 6.6 rebounds and shot 57.7 percent as a starter.

A year later, he was in Iceland’s Dominos League, again starting, for Stjnarn. He averaged 17 points and 8.8 rebounds in 34 games and shot 58.5 percent.

The next step was another one up the massive European basketball ladder, with Steaua CSM EximBank Bucuresti in Romania. But after only a few games, Mills found his way -- and he’s still not sure how -- into the doghouse of head coach Bavcevic Niksa.

“I started the first game, did OK,” Mills said. “Came in the second game, play well, got a couple of dunks. Third game, can’t lie, laid an egg. The coach just lost confidence in me.

“(After) game 3, it was a struggle.”

Mills said he continued working hard and practicing well and had a 10-point, five-rebound game after all that but never found his way into Niksa’s graces again.

Soon enough, Mills started wondering about his playing future, although he knows he could return to one of his first two leagues.

“Do I want to prolong playing just to say I’m playing?” asked Mills, who averaged 4.3 points, 1.9 rebounds and 12.9 minutes in the final season. “No, I don’t.”

While his playing career might have ended earlier than expected, or deserved, Mills doesn’t show much frustration. Not that there isn’t some.

“Romania was definitely a step up as far as league-wise, competition-wise,” he said. “But I was competing. But part of me is like, ‘I think it’s time to get started on the next phase of my life.’ I love to get back (here). I love to do this. I love to teach the game. I love to keep learning about the game.”

Regardless, he’ll have a better vantage point should the Bears replicate last spring’s run, from the A-Sun tournament championship to beating Duke in the NCAA tournament.

“I watched the conference finals against (Florida) Gulf Coast,” Mills said. “I almost got called for a room check (violation) for a noise complaint because of how excited I was for those guys.”

The noon tipoff for the Duke game was a problem, since it coincided with the start of a practice. A teammate after practice inquired if Mills wanted to know of the Bears won, and he wasn’t sure he did just yet. He wanted to find out himself.

“He said, ‘I don’t know who won,’ ” Mills said. “But he said, ‘One of my girls on Twitter said, Mercer and the Nae Nae.’ Then I knew.”

Cognizant of Kevin Canevari’s dance fever, there was no doubt Mercer won and who had that postgame center stage.

Mills’ family DVRd the game, and he watched the whole thing when he got home about a month later.

“Play by play,” Mills said with a laugh. “Just as sweet. Yelled at every possession. I was cherishing the moment just as much as they were.”

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