Liz Mills:First woman to coach men’s basketball in international tournament


Most coaches strolling onto the basketball courtroom are interested by techniques, beginning lineups and the upcoming recreation. But as the primary woman to coach a men’s nationwide group at a significant FIBA tournament, Liz Mills should consider the whole lot — even what she wears.

“When I went to Mozambique, they stated: ‘You cannot put on the boots. You’ve obtained to take them off since you look too female,'” Mills tells CNN Sport.

She refused to take off the excessive heeled boots they usually have since change into a mainstay. “I’m very proud to be a woman. Don’t you neglect about it, however I’m right here to coach. And that is what I would like individuals to speak about: the teaching.”

Growing up in Australia, Mills watched the Women’s National Basketball League. Unlike most, the individuals who impressed her weren’t the gamers, however slightly the coaches on the sidelines.

Mills says, “I at all times say that, for me, seeing coaches like Carrie Graf and Jan Sterling, these had been head coaches of ladies’s groups in the 90s and early 2000s.”

She provides, “I believe that put the thought in my head that, I’m not going to be a terrific participant, however I might be a terrific coach.

“I noticed these robust, profitable, clever ladies profitable the league. If they’ll do it, I can do it.”

Mills was impressed by trailblazers in the ladies’s recreation, however she would change into a trailblazer in a completely completely different approach. She is a pioneer and a champion for ladies in a sport the place coaches are virtually completely male.

Life altering assembly

Having spent a number of years teaching basketball in Australia, primarily with girls and boys, Mills was volunteering in Zambia when she was invited by a good friend to watch a neighborhood men’s membership group.

Like many people when watching a sports activities group, Mills thought that she might do higher; however in contrast to most of us, she did one thing about it.

“I’m going up to one of many gamers and ask, ‘Do you have got a membership president or something right here?'” she recollects. “And he launched me to the membership president. He labored for the World Bank, Maziko Phiri, and was very open minded, so we now have a chat and he stated, ‘OK, you possibly can have an hour of follow.'”

That one hour become one coaching session, which become one other coaching session, which become Mills taking cost of Heroes Play United.

Over the subsequent 10 years, Mills coached membership groups in Zambia and Rwanda and served as an assistant coach to the Zambian and Cameroonian nationwide groups earlier than getting her large break as the pinnacle coach of the Kenyan men’s nationwide group.

Mills took over the Kenya job forward of the AfroBasket 2021 qualifiers, the place the nation was wanting to make it to Africa’s premier competitors for the primary time in 28 years.

She duly delivered in probably the most dramatic style. In February 2021, ahead Tylor Ongwae hit a buzzer-beater to raise Kenya over Angola — probably the most profitable group in AfroBasket historical past — reserving the Morans’ spot on the tournament.

In the competitors itself, Mills guided Kenya out of the group phases for the primary time in its historical past and solely narrowly missed out on the quarterfinals, shedding 60-58 to South Sudan in the spherical of 16.

With that success underneath her belt, Mills made the transfer from East to North Africa, taking up Moroccan membership AS Salé and breaking one other couple milestones as she turned the primary woman to coach a men’s basketball group in the Arab world and the primary woman to coach a group on the Basketball Africa League (BAL).

Breaking boundaries

Mills laughs wanting again at her trials and accomplishments however enduring the discrimination she has suffered has not been simple.

“I keep in mind the primary time we performed towards Angola, they had been like, ‘What is your water woman doing on the courtroom?’ They could not comprehend there was a feminine coach.”

But the bias was not restricted to Angolans. “An Australian journalist requested me what I did when the gamers take showers,” stated Mills, “or what I do in the locker room once they want to get modified.”

She has additionally change into accustomed to having the highlight on her in the complete information that any failure won’t merely be seen as a private failure, but in addition one in every of her total gender.

“I believe again to AfroBasket,” remembers Mills. “Our first recreation towards Cote d’Ivoire was the primary time a woman had coached at an occasion like that ever. And so I’m saying: ‘Gosh, I hope we win this recreation, however I hope we play effectively.’ But then I’ve obtained to, as a woman, carry out as effectively.

“My male colleagues aren’t sitting there worrying about stuff like that in any respect. They’re simply on the market to coach.”

In being the primary to accomplish what she has, Mills has blazed this path on her personal, however she would not need another woman to have to do the identical.

That’s why she based the Global Women in Basketball Coaching Network in August.

“There are so many coaches in Africa now who attain out to me, particularly younger ladies, who’re like, ‘I noticed you teaching Kenya’ or ‘I noticed you teaching Salé and that is why I would like to coach,'” says Mills. “Especially after Kenya certified, I had a whole lot of ladies all over the world [getting in contact], from Ireland to the Philippines to Colombia.”

The community — which Mills arrange together with her twin, Vic — connects ladies from all around the world who coach in basketball in any respect ranges of the sport, offering them with coaching and programs to enhance their teaching.

But extra importantly, it’s a protected area for coaches to assist one another in an trade that’s rife with sexism.

Members of the community have skilled discrimination of every kind, significantly these working in the men’s recreation. Mills stated one of many members was as soon as provided a job as the pinnacle coach of a men’s group, however the sponsors of the membership stated that, if she was given the job, they’d pull their sponsorship.

Even in the ladies’s recreation, teaching remains to be seen as a job primarily for males. Mills lately attended the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in her native Australia the place solely 5 of the 12 international locations had been coached by ladies.

But for each story that weighs Mills down, there may be one other that lifts her up and encourages her to preserve preventing.

“I used to be in Senegal for BAL (Basketball Africa League). Day one of many tournament, we simply completed follow and I used to be strolling across the enviornment simply ready for a recreation to begin, and a girl and her two kids stopped me strolling,” says Mills.

“And she’s like, ‘I simply need to say the rationale that myself and my two ladies are right here watching is we love basketball, however we’re going to come and watch each single one in every of your video games as a result of my ladies need to be such as you once they develop up.'”

Mills isn’t alone in trailblazing in the men’s recreation and is becoming a member of a rising checklist of ladies coaches making strides in the game.

Brigitte Affidehome Tonon was the pinnacle coach of Benin’s males earlier than Mills joined Kenya. In the US, Becky Hammon has been on the peak of men’s basketball for a variety of years, spending eight years because the assistant coach to Gregg Popovich on the five-time NBA champion San Antonio Spurs. She was thought-about by a variety of NBA groups for his or her head teaching emptiness, earlier than she took up the pinnacle teaching position on the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces, who she lead to a championship in her first season.

But Mills has her eyes set on reaching all of it on the international stage — nonetheless lengthy it takes.

“I would like to be the primary woman to coach on the World Cup as a head coach of an African [men’s] group,” she asserts.

Many would see that as solely a matter of time.


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