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Thursday, 21 August 2008

Redeem Team Crushes Aussie Dream -- But Not Mills

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No surprises.

That was the score. The expected outcome was reached. Australian basketball fans dreamt of the Cinderella story, the Rocky-like miracle victory. Then the Redeem Team, aka the USA Men's Basketball team, smashed the glass slipper on the ground before midnight even came around and the pumpkin carriage could arrive.

The Aussies kept it tight for the first quarter and the USA players certainly looked flustered and somewhat surprised. Most of that came from a very poor three-point shooting performance by the red white'n'blues early on and Australia stopping baskets underneath with some solid fouls which were not converted upon.

Ultimately, everyone in Australia knew that a "miracle" was needed to pull out victory, against a squad that has dominated all comers. The 11 point game prior to the Olympic tournament (sans Andrew Bogut) was just a smokescreen and Team USA had turned on all cylinders by the time this match came around.

USA goes on to deal with Argentina and likely Spain as they try to take the Gold Medal unhindered. Australia battles for the fifth place, the best consolation available at this stage.

However a lot can be taken from this campaign for the Aussies. The team is very young and one star in particular has jumped to the forefront of the public consciousness: Patrick Mills. The 5'11" 19-year old has proven on more than one occasion in this tournament that he is not at all intimidated by players at the highest level. NBA scouts will no doubt be watching him, as many fans are.

Guarded by Chris Paul, the player he most resembles on Team USA, he showed no signs of struggle as he danced to the basket on more than one drive; even taking and and-one from Paul himself at one point when the game was still in contention.

Even Coach K was impressed with Mills and said what everyone else was thinking:

"I'm glad my Duke team doesn't play St. Mary's," U.S. Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "He'll be an NBA guard."

An accolade from a coach is one thing, a nicety if you will. But getting an NBA superstar to admit that he got beaten, that's another thing.

"He's quick, he can move," said U.S. point guard Chris Paul. "I read something that said that he's faster than me. They're probably right."

As always however, Mills is self-effacing and humble. He sees the benefit of this exposure, not to himself, but to his school.

"Hopefully this does a lot for St. Mary's program," Mills said. "And we can progress in the NCAA tournament."

This is the type of player Australia has leading them into the next decade of international basketball. The future looks bright.

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