March 2011 Blue Blood Dave Pond
The love that Cameron Mills had for Kentucky Wildcat basketball earned him little more than an unheralded spot on the bench. His passion for the sport, however, and his deadly accuracy from three-point range, brought him into the national spotlight through a pair of NCAA national championships.
Mills was born with Kentucky-blue blood coursing through his veins. His father, Terry, had played for the 'Cats from 1968-71 and the younger Mills was bent on doing the same. He even turned down a full scholarship from the University of Georgia to take a spot at the bottom of Rick Pitino’s Wildcat roster.
“I just wanted to play at Kentucky,” Mills said. “I never wanted to play anywhere else. My dad played there, and I grew up in the state of Kentucky, so there just wasn’t any other option for me.” Although he was highly regarded by Georgia and other programs, Mills received little attention from his dad’s alma mater. Wanting to help his son, Terry connected with then-UK assistant coach Billy Donovan about Mills’ options. Donovan informed him that the team was already set at the two-guard position but that, if Mills wanted to play for them that badly, he was welcome to walk on.
“I couldn’t have scripted anything close to what happened at Kentucky. That’s just evidence of what God had planned for me.”
“Dad came to get me out of school that morning and told me that they wanted me to walk on, and all I heard was, ‘They want me!’” Mills said with a laugh. “Even if I rode the bench for four years and never got a chance to play, I was OK with that. I just wanted to wear the uniform—to wear my dad’s old number and be in that locker room.” Now 13 years later, Mills is still blown away by how what he’d expected to be an unremarkable NCAA career turned into something greater.
“I couldn’t have scripted anything close to what happened at Kentucky,” Mills said. “That’s just evidence of what God had planned for me.”
Mills tells it like this: “You have to remember that I was a walk-on, sitting at the very end of the bench. The starting two-guard in 1997—Derek Anderson, who went on to have a solid NBA career—tore his ACL in January of my junior year. I was the only other two-guard on the team. Really, out of sheer desperation and nowhere else to turn, Coach Pitino put me in. I started hitting three pointers, and I kept hitting them. Before I knew it, I was the second-leading scorer on the team during the 1997 NCAA tournament. Coach Pitino even made jokes in the media about it, and I laughed right along with him. It was like a dream sequence. Nobody saw it coming—least of all me.”
After playing in only a handful of games in his freshman and sophomore years, Mills saw action in nearly every game of his junior and senior seasons. By the time his playing career was over, he had become a member of two national championship teams, and to this day he remains the program’s all-time leader in season (53.2) and career (47.4) three-point percentages.
After college, many of his peers went on to play in the NBA or found lucrative work competing overseas, but Mills chose a different route by turning away from the professional game to go into ministry. It was the only vocation to which he truly felt called. Since the age of 7, Mills had steadfastly followed a divine path. It began with his initial profession of faith, which he made in response to a televangelist’s call to repentance, and was confirmed over the years through FCA, his local church, his family’s love, and Mills’ own God-given gift to connect with people.
“I felt a call to ministry in my spirit when I was 12 years old,” Mills said. “I saw the difference my youth pastor was making in my life and in the lives of other students at my church, and I knew that was what I was called to do.”
In 1990, Mills was a member of the inaugural freshman class at Lexington’s Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, where he and his classmates had the opportunity to help shape everything from the school’s traditions to the selection of the fight song. According to Mills, one of the biggest blessings was the chance to help build the school’s FCA Huddle from the ground up.
He continued his involvement with the ministry at UK and began attending Huddle meetings shortly after he arrived on campus. It was even through FCA that he received additional confirmation regarding God’s plans for his life.
“[Former] Kentucky FCA Multi-Area Director Max Appel, who wound up being one of the biggest influences in my life, said he would be taking a van to Maysville—about 60 miles away—to put on an FCA rally for some high school students and that we were all welcome to go,” Mills said. “So that night came, and a few of us hopped in the van and planned the whole thing on the fly.”
As a former athlete, Mills prioritizes speaking in athletic settings such as the Kansas FCA State Conference (above).
After the students made assignments for worship, skits, testimonies and the like, Appel asked Mills if he would be willing to give a lengthier talk—something the freshman had never done before.
“I wasn’t nervous or scared or anything; I just remember saying, ‘OK,’” Mills said. “I had 30 minutes left on the trip, so I grabbed a Wendy’s napkin and started scratching out thoughts on what was on my heart at the time, and that was sexual purity.”
With that topic Mills recalls putting a look of equal parts surprise, nervousness and sheer horror on Appel’s face.
“He’d never heard me speak before, and I wanted to talk to a group of students about sexual purity,” Mills said. “But that was what God had put on my heart, and I felt like that was what He wanted those high-schoolers to hear.”
Mills conveyed his message with boldness and captured the attention of the audience. Knowing the influence he had as the speaker, he took time to talk with students after the event. As he was greeting a few of them, he noticed a young girl standing off to the side, her eyes filled with tears. Once the crowd was gone, the teenager approached Mills.
“Her first words to me through her sobs were that she wished she’d heard me speak two weeks before.” Mills said. “Her boyfriend had pressured her and pressured her, and she’d finally given in.”
The two sat together talking, crying and praying before they rejoined the group, but the conversation stayed with Mills throughout the drive back to Lexington. That was when he knew ministry was what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.
The timing was perfect considering that his basketball notoriety was on the rise. Mills began jumping at every opportunity he had to teach others about Christ—everywhere from local FCA Huddles and youth groups to churches and area athletic functions. He became co-president of the university’s Huddle and, with the help of a number of mentors, began to lay the groundwork for what would become Cameron Mills Ministries upon his graduation in 1998.
“In a nutshell, I travel around and speak,” Mills said, understating a 13-year-old ministry that has taken him into churches, Christian festivals, sports chapels and revivals across the country, including FCA events in five states. “God tells us through Scripture that if we will exalt Him, He will draw all men to Him. A lot of times, we put pressure on ourselves to do the work, but the work is not ours; it’s God’s. My job is to get out of the way, preach the Word, and let the Holy Spirit draw people unto Him.”
Along with his genial nature, Mills’ gift for connecting with people has endeared the former basketball star to coaches, athletes and fellow ministers. Included in that group is Kansas’ FCA State Director Ralph Stewart, who has invited Mills to speak at the state FCA conference in both of the last two years.
“My job is to get out of the way, preach the Word, and let the Holy Spirit draw people unto Him.”
“Someone who does what Cameron does—who has two national championship rings, runs basketball camps and is highly sought after on the speaking circuit—you’d think he might have some airs or arrogance about him. But he’s got the sweetest disposition and spirit you’ll ever find,” Stewart said. “Cameron can sit and talk with anybody about anything. In front of our groups, I’ve seen him weep, and I’ve seen his authenticity and transparency. You can really see the impact that he is able to have in reaching people for Christ.”
Through his ministry, Mills travels virtually full-time, sharing Christ with a variety of groups across the country. Still, FCA and FCA events continue to hold a prominent place both in his heart and on his schedule.
“It’s no secret the important role that athletics play in life and how exalted they are in the world,” he said. “Reaching coaches and athletes and all they influence is key. Sports are for everybody. There’s hardly a single person out there who hasn’t been influenced by an athlete or a coach at some point, which is what makes FCA such an invaluable organization.”
Reflecting on the past and looking ahead to the future, Mills knows he will continue to team up with FCA whenever possible. He’s seen the impact it can have—both on his audiences and on his own soul.
|Visit the official Cameron Mills Ministries website at cmm21.com for more information |
“If you think about it, it was an FCA Rally in Maysville where I very clearly heard what I was going to do with the rest of my life,” Mills said. “I knew I was called to ministry before then, but, thanks to FCA, God revealed to me what my ministry would look like and what it is today.”
--For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. To subscribe to STV, click here.
Photos courtesy of Scott Walz; Martin Blake Cram; UK Athletics