They shout “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” and “Oi! Oi! Oi!” at St. Mary’s basketball games in Moraga these days.
But the best news that Patrick Mills, the standout freshman from Australia, heard this week didn’t have anything to do with the latest top 25 ranking for the Gaels, who play at Loyola Marymount tonight and at Pepperdine on Monday.
It was word from home about the Australian government’s formal apology to Aborigines and other indigenous Australians for the racist policies of the past.
“It was a very historic day for indigenous people,” said Mills, whose mother is Aboriginal and whose father is a Torres Strait Islander, another of Australia’s indigenous groups.
“It has taken this long to get some sort of recognition about what happened in the past and how bad it was,” Mills said, specifically mentioning those known as the Stolen Generations -- the estimated 100,000 indigenous children who were taken from their parents under government policies during the last century.
Let other college basketball players idolize Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
Mills’ athletic heroes are his uncle, Danny Morceu, the first indigenous player to make the Australian Olympic basketball team, and Cathy Freeman, the Aboriginal track standout who lighted the Olympic caldron for the 2000 Sydney Games.
“To have Cathy Freeman light the flame for Australia was a big deal in the indigenous community, and for me personally, it really motivated me to make the national team,” Mills said.
The inspiration of Freeman and his uncle, who played in the 1980 and ’84 Games, came to fruition last summer when Mills played for the Australia national team -- known as the Boomers -- that has qualified for the Beijing Games.
Players from Australia are not a new phenomenon in American college basketball. Andrew Gaze took Seton Hall all the way to the Final Four in 1989, and Andrew Bogut was the national player of the year at Utah in 2005.
But Mills -- a 6-foot guard who goes by “Patty” and burst onto the scene with a 37-point performance in an early-season upset of Oregon -- has a different heritage. “I take a lot of pride in that,” Mills said. “It’s sort of similar to black Americans here,” he said.
St. Mary’s Randy Bennett has created something of an Australian pipeline that began with Adam Caporn in 2001, Bennett’s first season as coach.
In 2005, St. Mary’s went to the NCAA tournament with a team led by Australian Daniel Kickert, and there are three Australians on the current team, including Mills.
“People involved in basketball in Australia understand how big the top 25 is, but I think the general public understands more about the NCAA tournament,” said Mills, who leads the Gaels with averages of 14.8 points and 3.6 assists.
Come March, he’s hoping the 21-3 Gaels will be Australia’s team -- perhaps along with Vanderbilt, where Australian A.J. Ogilvy is another freshman standout.
For now, Mills’ focus is on the West Coast Conference race, an unusually tight one with St. Mary’s, Gonzaga and San Diego each with only one conference loss. There’s that, and a little something he’s missing about home.
Vegemite -- a brown paste spread used on sandwiches. “I’ve run out,” Mills said. “I need to get my parents to send me some.”