SAN ANTONIO -- Patty Mills wants to shrug off any suggestion of pressure regarding his Australian national team heading into the Rio Olympics, but the San Antonio Spurs guard embraces the situation knowing this year's squad might be the best assembled in quite a while.
With that come expectations of winning a medal, which Mills said would be "massive" toward boosting the game of basketball in Australia.
"The team that we have together now with seven of us in the NBA, and some playing at a high level in Europe, and then a couple guys in Australia that are playing big time, and putting up big-time numbers, I think it's arguably the best team that's been put together to go over to a major championship like this," Mills said. "So when you look at it like that, I think this is our best chance to try and do something that Australia has never done before. We're going over there with a goal for us to try and win a medal as it should be, and everyone on the team deep down believes that we can."
The Australian team, nicknamed the Boomers, announced its preliminary 26-man squad for the Rio Olympics with coach Andrej Lemanis selecting seven NBA players for the team, which includes Mills along with Andrew Bogut, Matthew Dellavedova, Dante Exum, Joe Ingles, Aron Baynes, and Cameron Bairstow headlining, as well as college star Ben Simmons.
🇦🇺We are the Aussie boys and so say all of us🇦🇺— Patrick Mills (@Patty_Mills) February 14, 2016
The preliminary squad will be whittled down to 16 players for the team's selection camp, which will be held from July 5-10, and it's expected that all the squad's NBA participants will make the cut.
Mills estimated the impact of the squad earning a medal would be: "Just massive, and not just for basketball, which needs it without saying there's pressure or anything like that because there is; but it would be great to boost the game in Australia and get the following behind it like there once was in the 80s and 90s. It's dropped off a tremendous amount. It's getting back there, but I think something like that would be absolutely huge."
Mills looms large as a potential contributor for the Boomers, having fully recovered from a torn right rotator cuff that required more than a year of rehabilitation. It took approximately 15 months after undergoing shoulder surgery on the torn rotator cuff for Mills to start feeling normal again, and now he's averaging career highs in minutes (20.5) and assists (2.8), while contributing 8.7 points per game hitting 44.3 percent from the field and 39.4 percent from three-point range.
"Going into a big tournament like that, you want to go in with some sort of rhythm, and health," Mills said. "That's the biggest thing at that point. It gets tough because, especially from the NBA standpoint with the amount of games you play, and then you go pretty much straight into a camp, and play the whole offseason. It's almost a year-round deal what you're doing. So it takes a lot of toll on the body. So I think the biggest thing is to stay healthy and stay fresh going into something like that. Because then, you've got to back it up again pretty much straight into training camp again."
Mills appears to be ready, and despite having to adjust to the small differences between the NBA and the international games, the guard wants most to relish the opportunity to play with his countrymen.
"It's something that you just enjoy playing for your country and you want to represent well, in the right way, and do right by your teammates," Mills said. "That's what makes it the most fun I think is the guys I'm playing with and have played with on the national team have been guys that I've grown up with and have been playing with. So it's always a fun thing."