Saturday, February 28, 2004

Catching up with... Cameron Mills

Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Basketball in Kentucky is often likened to religion. Cameron Mills knows better, for he knows both.

Celebrated for his storybook rise in the state's signature sport - from walk-on to key reserve on UK's 1997 and '98 Final Four teams - Mills is now gaining renown for a higher calling. The non-denominational Christian is an ordained minister, spending roughly 200 days per year speaking to church groups around the country.

His faith was well-known during his playing days. Mills said he was "called to ministry" at age 12, thanks in part to an influential youth pastor.

Yet the key moment came at a Fellowship for Christian Athletes rally in Maysville, Ky., before his freshman season at UK. Asked at the last moment to speak, Mills gave a talk about sexual abstinence, and he said about 50 kids approached him afterward.

"One girl was crying her eyes out, saying, 'I wish I had heard you two weeks ago,'" Mills said. "I decided that night this is what I wanted to do."

In the summer after his freshman year, Mills said, he gave about 35 talks to youth groups. He gave about 50 more after his sophomore year, and about 80 after his junior year.

Cameron Mills Ministries was founded, including a board of directors and a secretary. After he helped UK win the NCAA title as a senior in 1998, Mills had an itinerary a year out. During one stretch, he said he gave 45 talks in two weeks.

About half of his talks come in Kentucky, where Mills admits his basketball acclaim earns him invitations.

"I don't want to make my ministry off that," he said. "If I do, the ministry is not going to survive."

Basketball remains a passion. Mills does pregame analysis on the UK Radio Network.

His father, Terry, played at UK from 1966-71, and Mills turned down scholarship offers out of Lexington Dunbar to walk on at UK. He finished as the school's all-time leader in 3-point percentage (47.4). Most memorably, he hit huge 3-pointers in the 1998 NCAAs against Duke and Utah.

"I love still being a part of this," he said at a recent UK game. "I'm a Wildcat for life."

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