Spurs guard and proud Aussie Patty Mills discusses past, present, future

Spurs guard Patty Mills enters his eighth NBA season coming off a campaign in which he set career highs in minutes and assists per game. AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Although he's just 28, San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills has long been a source of pride for Australians.

After honing his basketball skills at the Australian Institute of Sport, he made a name for himself in the United States as a collegian at Saint Mary's. He was selected in the second round of the 2009 NBA draft by the Portland Trail Blazers and spent two seasons in the Pacific Northwest. He joined the Spurs in 2011 and won an NBA championship in his third season in San Antonio.

Now heading into his eighth NBA season, he's moving into elite company in terms of longevity, with only two Australians having played more seasons in the league -- Andrew Bogut (11 and counting) and Luc Longley (10). We recently caught up with Mills to discuss his homeland, the upcoming season, the Rio Olympics, footy and more.

Q: How satisfying was it to bring the NBA championship trophy home to Australia in 2014?

A: Huge, mate. Really huge. Australia hasn't experienced the NBA in any form or fashion ever, so having that opportunity to not only win the championship, but to take it home to let other people experience. ... At the time, it was me and Aron Baynes on the team, and we felt that support [from Australian fans] throughout the whole season. So I felt it was only the right thing to take the trophy back and let them experience it as well, because to an extent, they were a huge part of it as well. So going back and sharing it was very important. We took it to Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Brisbane, Cairns [Baynes' hometown] ... and up to the Torres Strait, where my family is from. It's one of those things that gives me the tingles thinking about doing that. I'm very proud of that.

Q: How does the retirement of Tim Duncan change the chemistry of the Spurs this season?

A: There's obviously an empty feeling in the locker room and on the court, and there's no way to fill that. Tim Duncan has been here for millions of years, and there's no way you can fill that. But I might say that we've all done a great job in trying to pick up his slack to the best of our ability -- to understand that we've got another year here where we're trying to reach the Finals again and put ourselves in the best position to hopefully win another championship.

Q: How do you see the prospects for the Spurs this season -- especially considering the attention the Golden State Warriors are getting after adding Kevin Durant?

A: That hasn't changed from year to year. We've always been able to go about our business and slide under the radar, and whatever else happens around the league doesn't really bother us. We're really focused on ourselves and how well we can play -- strengthening our weaknesses and getting everyone to buy into our culture and onto the same page. Whatever else goes around the league is beside the point for us.

Q: You take a lot of pride in your homeland. How does that manifest itself in your style of play and the way you carry yourself?

A: It definitely carries over a lot of passion and pride in who I am and where I come from and making sure I represent those people the right way. And I think that mental attitude I take to everything I do, no matter what it is ... because I want to bring the best out of myself. For me, that's just a small motivation that adds fuel to the fire that I use to get myself going to try and achieve great things.

Q: Now that you've had some time to reflect on the Olympics, how do you assess Australia's performance in Rio -- in particular, the Boomers' narrow bronze-medal game loss to Spain?

A: It's one of those things that's going to sting and hurt for a while, but I have had time to reflect on it. It's a bitter feeling, because we did try very hard to win a medal and create history for Australia. We fell short [Spain won 89-88] by millimeters or by seconds or however you want to see it. Now I'm teammates with one of those guys [Pau Gasol] who won the bronze medal, so I can't complain a whole lot. But from an Australian point-of-view, the feedback we got when we arrived back in Australia was really comforting. It was really good to know how many people followed our journey -- but not only followed it, they felt like a part of our journey from the beginning until the end. They rode our highs, and they rode our lows as well.

Q: You were once pursued by the AFL's Sydney Swans. Do you ever consider what might have been if you had decided to play professional Australian rules football?

A: I still do every now and again when I watch a game or I watch the Grand Final. That's a good story that not a lot of people know. I love playing my footy, and I miss it. I have a Sherrin [AFL game ball] in my locker at the moment, actually, that I bring out onto the court to kick around with the boys.

Q: You're heading into your sixth season with San Antonio. Are you beginning to pick up any of the Texas accent?

A: You tell me, mate! Well, this is my sixth season, and the South twang is very hard to ignore. But I think I'm doing a decent job of it so far.

Q: What do you think of the food in San Antonio?

A: I love it. I love other cultures. There's a Hispanic culture here with Tex-Mex. There's a country culture with Texas barbecue. I love being amidst it and sampling new stuff. Six out of the 10 years that I've been in the States have been here in San Antonio. So a big part of my life is here.

Q: You will be a free agent next offseason. How much will the opportunity to be a starter influence your decision on where to play?

A: It's a factor that I can't ignore. I've obviously wanted to be a starting point guard in the NBA for a long time as a goal. But you know, every situation is different, and I've learned stuff along the way. I think I'm a better point guard now than I was when I first came to San Antonio. That credit goes to the environment here and how I've been able to develop my game. That's something that I'm going to have to consider. It's not the be-all and end-all of my decision, but we'll see when it comes. This is obviously a big year for our team and trying to be able to concentrate and stay focused team-wise on trying to get to that next level of a championship. But if I can concentrate and focus on this team and what I can do to help this team, I think everything else will take care of itself.

Q: You're a long way from the end of your career, but would you have interest in playing in the Australian NBL (National Basketball League) when you're done competing in the NBA?

A: It's definitely a consideration -- especially how well the NBL is doing now. They have my full backing and support, because the league has definitely risen to a whole other level in the last couple years, which is pleasing to see. I definitely would consider playing back in Australia at the end of my career. Not a lot of my family have been able to come over [to the U.S.] and watch me play. To be able to play in front of family and friends is very important to me, [so they could] be able to see me play live and not just on TV.