How Liz Mills became the first woman to coach a men’s basketball team in an international tournament
“We were trying to reach the top of the game and we weren’t getting the results that we wanted. We would go to practices and the guys would say, ‘I’m tired. I can’t do this,’” Mills said.
“So we would get on a bus with our manager and go to practices and the guys would just come off the bus and tell us the same thing,” she recalled. “And it just got to the point where we were getting upset and feeling like we weren’t being respected.”
They were tired. They thought it through. When they decided they wouldn’t play basketball anymore, they decided to take action themselves. They took a bold step.
They went to the coaching staff at their school to ask why they were not getting the results. They shared their disappointment with the coaches. One of them responded: “If you don’t take the first step, you won’t make it to the next level.”
Mills was 23, and she was ready to make that step. From her first days playing basketball at the United States Air Force Academy to her rise through the ranks of women’s college basketball, she took a path that has spanned more than two generations and countless universities and coaches. There have been many highs, and many lows, and she has taken many bumps along the way.
But her rise from the bottom of the barrel was not one she could have believed possible. She was the kind of player who had to be molded into something other than the kind of player that made her so unique.
She came up through a talent-based system and her path was not always the fastest.
She needed patience. She needed to develop in the right way. She needed to trust her coaches enough to give them the credit for what she had not only become, but to give herself in return.
And then something happened.
“A man named Marko Lekic [coach of the Serbia national team] took me under his wing and taught me the game,” Mills said.