Monday, February 20, 2012

JaMichael Mills


Bill Lane is a Times-News sports writer.
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Born: Sept. 1, 1974 Where: Morristown Residence: Kingsport High Schools/Colleges: Dobyns-Bennett, Hargrave Military Academy/Providence University, Pensacola Junior College, Sullivan Junior College

THEN: The Mills family’s change of residence in the late 1980s steered the career of a remarkable athlete in a different direction. JaMichael Mills, a quarterback, had showed interest in football until moving to Kingsport.

Suddenly, it was another sport for him.

“Football was big in Jefferson County,” Mills said, “and it was my first love. Once we came to Kingsport, I became interested in basketball.” Mills contributed big to an aggregate 69-1 record in the eighth and ninth grades at John Sevier Middle School. He was already dunking the ball. At Dobyns-Bennett, he got promoted from the B-team to the varsity midway through his freshman year and the rebuilding Indians managed an 18-14 record. The next two seasons were among D-B’s all-time best. The Indians, ranked No. 1 in the Class AAA state poll both times, had records of 33-4 and 35-2.

He transferred to Hargrave Military Academy as a senior and played on a team that finished 35-5.

The 6-foot-3, 170-pound post/wing averaged 15 points and nine rebounds as a sophomore and 19.7 points and 11 rebounds as a junior playing in a platoon system.

“Our defensive pressure was everything,” Mills said. “It generated most of our points.

“Coach (Steve) Shipley had a good system. He could get the effort out of us every night. He kept us all tightly wound and on the same page. He was one of the best X’s and O’s men in the game and had us prepared for everything.”

D-B’s outlook was bright upon Contributed photo arrival at the 1992 state tournament in Murfreesboro. In the first round, the Indians defeated Haywood County by 11 points despite an 18-point first quarter by future NBA player Tony Delk.

The D-B lineup also included Fred Smith and Mike Piazza, who shared time at point guard; Ricky Hale at center, and Ryan Black and Shane Carnes at guards, with Demar Lewis subbing in.

Misfortune struck in the second round against Brainerd. Mills, while attempting to block a shot, was undercut and went crashing to the floor. He suffered a broken left wrist.

"It was all Coach Shipley could do to keep me out of the game,” Mills said. “We’d put it all on the line to get there. I felt that if I couldn’t score, I could still make my presence known by playing defense.

“We were counting on being there maybe even twice more but there was no guarantee. No team is ever the same but we expected to play in Murfreesboro again.”

It did turn out that way. Mills, who could make the transition from post to guard, and his teammates returned to the big show in 1993. Black, Carnes and Smith were joined in the interchangeable lineup by Todd Corum and super sub Corky Blye. Ryan Wagner also got key minutes spelling Smith at the point. With four starters returning, D-B was ranked No. 1 all season. Its five-guard set dominated the opposition. “It was three quarters and out for the starters in most of our games,” Mills said. “We won the Arby’s Classic that season.”

An upset loss to Science Hill in the Region 1 tournament at Rogersville didn’t halt D-B’s march on Murfreesboro. The Indians got back on track with a substate win over Lenoir City, whose star was Travis Cozart. “We got an ugly draw at state and had to face Memphis Fairley in the opening round,” Mills said. “We felt all along we were going to win it. Losing was not an option. We were going to come home as state champions. But Fairley had other ideas. “Sylvester Ford, a 6-7 point guard, was the featured player in a huge lineup. We got behind and had to foul to catch up.
Fairley won 75-60.”

The Tribe might have been able to make it to state again with this team but Mills went to Hargrave at Chatham, Va., and Carnes transferred to Oak Hill Academy. “I never took school seriously,” Mills said. “At Hargrave, I learned how to study and picked up my grades.” Mills and Carnes, after playing for different colleges, were eventually reunited at Sullivan Junior College in Louisville, Ky. At Pensacola Junior College, Mills had a stellar year, averaging 15 points at shooting guard on a team ranked No. 1 in the nation. Mills developed his game playing three summers for the AAU Tennessee Travelers. Two of his teammates were Ron Mercer (Boston Celtics) and Drew Maddux (Vanderbilt), who today is coaching Nashville CPS — the state’s top-ranked Class AA team. “I played against some of the best competition the country had to offer,” Mills said. “Delk, Ford, Allen Iverson, Jerry Stackhouse, Ray Allen and Vincent Rainey were among them.” Mills, a fireballing left-hander, enjoyed baseball but couldn’t find the time to play at D-B because of AAU events.

NOW: Mills has just returned to Kingsport from Atlanta, where he worked in the mortgage business until the housing market went south. He wants his son, 12-year-old JaSun, to grow up here.

Mills’ mother, Janet Russaw, teaches fourth grade at Lincoln Elementary. His late father Tony, who stood 6-6, was the first black student to receive an athletic scholarship at Carson-Newman College. He coached basketball at Morristown West.

JaMichael’s sister also was a star player. Jocelyn “Josh” Mills, who scored 44 points and got 22 rebounds in her first varsity game at Jefferson County, became a 2,000-point scorer in high school after transferring to D-B. The 5-11 Mills was a four-year starter and All-Southeastern Conference performer at the University of Kentucky. Two years ago, she was chosen Kentucky’s Female Player of the Decade. She is a vice principal in Louisville