MORAGA, Calif. (AP) -Patty Mills made quite a name for himself nationally with his standout freshman season and NCAA appearance with Saint Mary's College. Then, he took that one step farther with an impressive performance for Australia in the Beijing Games.
He was the lone college player in the Olympic basketball field and scored 20 points in the quarterfinals against the gold-winning U.S. team full of NBA stars. He also had three assists, two steals and no turnovers.
He's earned fans in high places, too.
``Tape doesn't do him justice,'' said U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke. ``I love him defensively. I've been a defensive coach my whole life and there aren't very many people who stay with a guard - like right on him - when he has the ball. And if he's beaten, he doesn't retreat. He continues to play the play. He's got to be an extremely tough-minded kid. As good as he is offensively, I think he's got a chance to be a great defender. I think the kid has a big- time future.''
nd out of the spotlight. Yet everybody is wondering whether his sophomore season might just be his last before the speedy guard bolts to the NBA. He's not ready to think about that just yet.
``That's how I've always approached everything. You can't look too far ahead,'' Mills said. ``My first year, I was focused on playing and I wasn't worried about the Olympics, then after I finished my first year it was all about the Olympics. Now that that's out of the way, I can honestly say I'm focusing on this next season. That's what I'm excited about now.
``When it comes, that's when you worry about it. You can't worry about it two steps away.''
With the 6-foot, 175-pound Mills - who's outsized in many of his matchups - leading the way, Saint Mary's is determined to become a regular force on the national stage and again challenge Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference.
The Gaels are picked to finish second to the Zags in the much-improved WCC, which sent three teams to the NCAA tournament last season for the first time ever.
Mills' breakout game last season came in his fourth game, when he scored 37 points in a 99-87 victory over then-No. 12 Oregon. Afterward, former Saint Mary's coach Ernie Kent compared Mills to NBA star Tony Parker and said he wouldn't bring his Ducks back to Moraga again.
ch Randy Bennett has had a tough time filling his schedule as many big-time teams have no interest in playing a top mid-major school. Even Krzyzewski said at the Olympics that he was glad his Duke team didn't have to contend with Mills and Saint Mary's this season.
``It's never easy to schedule, but it's harder to get a game this year,'' Bennett said. ``Usually you can always get in tournaments and get games on the road but it's been a little more difficult to get certain games. Home games are about out of the question this year. We can't seem to get anybody to do that with us.''
The 1997 Gaels under Kent won the school's lone WCC tournament title. Mills wants nothing more than to keep this tiny school in San Francisco's East Bay suburbs on the national map. Next up is winning the WCC and getting back to the NCAA tournament, where they are looking to win a game for the first time since 1959.
He has only built on that outing against Oregon, leading Saint Mary's to the first round of the NCAAs before a 78-64 loss to Miami. Over six Olympic games, he averaged a team-leading 14.2 points while coming off the bench. Mills also scored 22 points against an Argentina team that included five NBA players.
``I think I read somewhere that he's faster than me,'' said Chris Paul, a U.S. gold medalist and the New Orleans Hornets' point guard. ``Probably right, and I'm one of the fastest guys in the NBA.''
used that Olympic experience to his advantage, watching intently to learn from his Australian teammates about how they handled different situations and their leadership styles.
``He had improved defensively and that's what I noticed most,'' Bennett said. ``He's improved as a shooter. He was a better shooter than people thought last year but he had to take some tough shots against the shot clock. He's better, he's stronger, he's a better defender. He's had a really high self esteem and a great belief, which is what makes him special. But that level of confidence has jumped.''
Mills averaged a team-leading 14.8 points, 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals as a freshman. But he turned the ball over 2.8 times per game and shot only 32 percent from 3-point range.
He has committed himself to making better decisions with the ball, and improving his shot and defense. He also knows he needs to take a bigger leadership role.
``Once you've been here for a year, you're a veteran already. You've experienced everything,'' he said. ``You've experienced what it's like to handle school and handle basketball. You've experienced traveling on the road. Now I know what to expect this year.''

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