The NBA can be a tough league for foreign-born players at times, guys who may have been stars in their native countries are often faced with the confronting truth that on an NBA roster there is another 14 players that are just as good as them, fighting for roster spots. Many internationals have tried their luck, and eventually – for numerous reasons – they return back to their countries or continue playing their trade abroad.
Australia's Patty Mills – arguably the most talented point guard to emerge from our shores – could very easily have gone down that path as well. The diminutive Mills was the last man added to the Portland roster twice, seeing limited minutes in his first season but never unwavering in his enthusiasm and encouragement for his teammates.
Mills has faced many obstacles in his brief NBA career. Just as he was beginning to show the Americans what Australian basketball fans knew he was capable of, the league entered it's second ever lockout, forcing the cancellation of many games and threatening to derail Mills' career (he was an unrestricted free agent at the time) before it truly got started.
Mills was given another chance at the big show however when the San Antonio Spurs – with Boomers coach Brett Brown as an assistant – signed him for the remainder of the lockout shortened season. Since then Mills has continued to grow, as both a player and in stature amongst the fans and American media who are taking notice of, not only his game, but are also curious to find out about the man behind the towel-waving as well.
Prior to last night's game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, Starting5online.com managed to speak to Patty about life in the NBA – but not before Mills fulfilled duties to American media who were eagerly waiting for him to finish his pre-game warm-up.
Starting5: It's good to see you're getting some international love there. The American media are after you as well these days.
Mills: Yeah, it's not bad.
Starting5: How does it feel?
Mills: It's good. I'm starting to get a bit of recognition over here, so I'm trying to represent Australia as best as I can.
Starting5: Speaking of that, you represent the Australian culture over here very well. You had the 'Patty Cakes' videos in Portland, today I noticed you took your teammates to lunch for kangaroo. How did that go down with them?
Mills: Well, the kangaroo went down really well with them. They smashed it! I mean I only had one skewer and the rest was gone before a wink of the eye [laughs]. But look, spreading the culture is something that's close to my heart. Not only the Australian culture, but more importantly my own culture. Being an indigenous Australian – Aborginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is something that's close to me. So I feel it's in my best interest to share – especially with my teammates, and you get a good response as well. Especially on this team, we've got so many foreign guys from all around the world that want to know about different cultures, so they're asking a lot of questions and I'm telling them all about it.
Starting5: Onto basketball now, how's the transition been for you this season? Last year you came into the team late, has there been much of an adjustment to make? Having a full training camp helped obviously?
Mills: Yeah, I mean obviously being there at the end of last season helped me for this year. Obviously the London Olympics as well gave me some confidence coming into this year but, after going through a whole training camp, and being with the team for the whole year has been really good. This team is really special. We've got some guys who really understand their role and it's the reason for our success at the start of this season really.
Obviously we're coached very well, and the role that Coach Pop has given me is one that I've accepted and [I'm] trying to make the most of it. I'm in my fourth year in the NBA, at this stage of my career I think I'm in the best place I could be, behind a future Hall-of-Fame player in Tony Parker. I feel like at this point in time, the more I can learn from him, the better I'm going to get so I'm excited.
Starting5: How much has Brett Brown helped you in helping you transition in and accept your role? He obviously knows you better than almost anyone in the NBA. How much has he helped your growth as a player here?
Mills: Oh, huge. Huge. For starters, with the national team, [but] here in San Antonio he keeps a close eye on me, making sure I'm doing all the necessary things – and more as well. So I'm very lucky to have him. He teaches me the ropes.
Starting5: Your minutes are down this year compared to last year. Last year was the lockout-shortened season, does that factor in to the downturn in minutes? Pop was looking to rest guys more last season?
Mills: No, I mean, we're deep. We're really deep. From the starting five to the last player on the team, we're deep. Everyone gets their chance, guys might play one night and not play the next night, but the way Pop uses us, you know, I mean we're the most played bench team in the league at the moment. Everyone gets their chance and everyone goes out and does very well. There's a reason why we have our record at the moment, so he [Popovich] is doing something right.
Starting5: How much does the loss in the Conference Finals to Oklahoma City motivate you this season? You were up 2-0, then lost four-straight. Is there a point to prove this year?
Mills: Definitely. That's huge. Playoffs last year, the way we went out was very disappointing. We called that 'identity-theft' 'cos the first two games we played was exactly the style – and the way – we play. Then the following games after that Oklahoma played the way we we'd like to play so this year we are definitely on a mission. We try and do it as best we can, but we know our goal at hand at the moment and that's to get back to where we were.
Starting5: Finally, before we let you get back to the locker room, have you been speaking to 'Bogues' [Andrew Bogut]? How's he doing? Do you guys communicate much?
Mills: Every now and again. Obviously it's a very tough time for him right now. Obviously his whole career he's been dealing with injuries, but this one could one of the worst ones he's had. You know, it's tough for him. He's an NBA professional, and although he's had many [injuries] before, I still think it's harsh on him, but, every time I talk to him I wish him the best and hope he gets back playing again because all the Aussies miss seeing him play.
Starting5: Cheers Patty. Good luck for the game.
Mills: Alright brother, thank you.
Patty Mills warms up prior to last night's game at Madison Square Garden