Each year for, seemingly the past five seasons, the Spurs have been written off and labeled as ‘too old’ to compete with the younger teams for an NBA title. But, when it comes to action in May/June, they’re usually in the mix. They just stick to what they know: San Antonio basketball.
Boomers guard Patty Mills has had to juggle different roles between national duty and playing on a loaded team in San Antonio. It’s hard to go from being ‘the man’ for your country, to just another player on an NBA roster. Mills has admitted he’s struggled balancing the two in the past, but he persevered, and now into his third season with the Spurs, he has the full trust of head coach Gregg Popovich, and his staff, to impact the game in true Patty Mills-fashion when his number is called.
Basketball Australia caught up with Mills at Madison Square Garden prior to the Spurs’ game against the New York Knicks last Sunday to talk about his continued adjustment to NBA life, the Boomers and the future of Australian basketball.
Basketball Australia: Firstly, tell us how you’re doing? How has the season been for you so far?
Patty Mills: Yeah, very good. Back for another long season, had a big summer of grinding, getting the body right, focusing on the specifics to try and make a contribution with the Spurs. Also, the World Cup for next year with Australia – we beat New Zealand in two games, so that was exciting, and now [back] here for another big year.
BA: Glad you brought that up actually. What are your plans with the national team moving forward? We spoke to ‘Bogues’ last week and he said he will probably miss the World Champs. You’re on-board for those, though?
PM: All on board, mate. The guys that we have on the team are close and we’ve all been playing together since we were young at the A.I.S, so it’s important for me to obviously represent Australia and to try and pick the following back up in Australian basketball like it has been [in the past].
It’s definitely on the way, but the World Championships next summer is going to be a big year for Australia.
BA: Speaking of picking the following up at home. Last year when we spoke there was only three Aussies in the NBA, now we have four with Matty Dellavedova at the Cavaliers as well. Dante Exum and Ben Simmons are projected lottery picks when they declare also. What does this mean in terms of helping to grow the sport?
PM: Yeah, [it’s] huge. It’s great. I mean, just last game we played Golden State and it was the first time that three Aussies were playing in the same game – that’s pretty special for Australians, and for basketball back home. Obviously with Dellavedova being with the Cavs is great [too]. He’s got a really good chance there and I think he’ll make the most of it.
Then we’ve got the young guys – Dante and Ben – who have got huge potential. Meeting them for the first time this past summer---
BA: Oh, you guys hadn’t actually met prior to that?
PM: I hadn’t seen them play. I hadn’t met them before this summer. I got to know them a little bit, [they’re] great young guys. We’ve got to teach them a lot, and they’ll be ready to learn a lot as well.
BA: They’re helping raise the Australian basketball profile as well. I’ve had so many American journalists ask me about Dante and Ben. That awareness of the next big things in Australian basketball has reached U.S shores which is great.
PM: It’s good to have the buzz.
BA: Let’s go back to last NBA season for a little bit. This is your third season with San Antonio, how bittersweet was last season? You make the Finals – somewhat unexpectedly – were within 28 seconds of winning, and then to lose like that.
PM: I think when you come that close to winning it’s always going to be a tender spot. It still is now. At the same time I think it fuels us, and it’s definitely motivating us to try and get back there this year.
The way we look at it now as a team is ‘we play every game like it’s our last.’ That’s the mindset we got going in to it.
BA: You’ve said in the past that you struggled in balancing the dual roles you have with the Spurs, being a reserve etc, versus the national team where you play a much larger role. Is that still the case now?
PM: No, I think that I just got to remember who I am, and what type of player I am and not to lose sight of that. I think last time we spoke, and years before that, I’ve definitely had that sense of falling out of touch with who I really am as a basketball player.
It’s become more clear now as to how I play, and to who I am. I have to stay true to that and try to be someone else. With that mindset I’ve got a strong idea of how to approach each game.
BA: Does the stability within the Spurs’ organization help you stay within that mindset?
PM: Yeah, for sure. They understand what type of player I am [so] when they saw me trying to be another player, or try to adapt to whatever, they helped me up and along the way and said, ‘You’re Patty Mills, just play like yourself.’ That was the biggest thing for me.
BA: Has Gregg Popovich given you any indication of whether your role will increase as the season goes on, or he’s keeping that as classified information?
PM: He’s the same way. Day-by-day, game-by-game. Things might change [or] things might stay the same. We never know. It’s one game at a time, and we’ll see how that game goes for how we’ll play the next game.
BA: What are your personal goals this season?
PM: Personal goal is to make more of a contribution than I did last year. I feel like I have a lot to offer to this team and I do feel like I fit the team well, and I’m obviously learning a whole bunch from Tony [Parker], Manu [Ginobili] and Tim [Duncan] as well so that’s my personal goal: to soak it up as much as I can while I have this opportunity with a great team and great organisation.
BA: One last question, mate. Slam Magazine said in their latest issue that the didgeridoo is the most interesting instrument in the world. Do you agree?
PM: Oh, yeah! It definitely is interesting in the way that it’s played. It’s funny you say that, I just gave a didgeridoo that I had to one of my buddies who put it up at his place of work.
I was just teaching him the other week! [Laughs]
By Nick Metallinos