The term “once-in-a-life time opportunity” is often abused, but sophomore guard Jamelle McMillan truly experienced one this summer.
During the Olympics in Beijing last month, McMillan got to hang around the U.S. men’s basketball team, while his father, Nate, roamed the sidelines as an assistant coach.
Q: So does your family have the gold medal hanging in the house?
A: We’re going to get one. We weren’t supposed to, because overseas the assistant coaches are not recognized at all. We found that very interesting, but we were able to pull some chains…and get a medal as well as a championship ring.
Q: Basketball is a huge attraction over there, isn’t it?
A: Everywhere you go, they have courts all over. In random places, like in the middle of the sidewalk and stuff. And they’re always full.
Q: Who on the U.S. team did you enjoy talking with the most?
A: I am friends with Dwight Howard. I talk to him a couple of times a week. I know Carmelo [Anthony]. Kobe [Bryant], [I] got to talk to him for a little bit. I played some shooting games with Dwayne Wade and Deron Williams. Jason Kidd was probably the most interesting one to talk to.
Q: Did you try to pick Kidd’s brain since you are a point guard too?
A: I did that with a lot of guys. Even Dwight Howard from a center standpoint. You’ve got to know the thoughts of everyone on your team and those guys are the best. So, any knowledge you can get from them is great.
Q: Have you been passing on the knowledge that you gained with your ASU teammates?
A: Yes, and with the coaching staff too. I had lunch with coach Sendek last week and we had a really good conversation for about an hour. I also talked to [sophomore forward] Rihards [Kuksiks] about it, since he used to play overseas [in his native Latvia] about the international game. It’s completely different.
Q: What was the single biggest thing that you took away from that experience?
A: Opportunity. Just make sure you recognize it and try to take advantage of all the things you have. When you’re on the floor, be productive. That’s your time. When you’re in the classroom, that’s your opportunity for your future. It’s been preached [to me] by my dad, but I really saw it when I went over there.
Q: How did your dad enjoy coaching a team full of such high-profile players?
A: He’s never really coached a superstar, unless you count Ray Allen [in Seattle]. [He said] it was very, very different. He said there were a few guys he could never coach. Just because guys of that level treat things [differently] and expect everything. That experience for him also helped out for his future and career. I’m extremely proud of him.
Q: What were the biggest differences that you saw between American and international basketball?
A: It’s much more physical, and I really didn’t recognize it until I went over there. Those guys will take cheap shots. You can shoot a three and they’ll knee you in the ribs. It’s a brutal game. And they’re not afraid of anybody. Kobe Bryant is just a name over there. Here he gets respect, but there it doesn’t matter. He’s just another player.
Q: How were you received in Beijing? Were you treated like royalty?
A: When [my mom, my sister and I] got there, we got a whole bus to ourselves. Three people. The only people in the hotel were NBA and WNBA people. When we went to games, they had military officials stop all traffic so we didn’t have to stop at one red light. We got seated first anywhere we went. Your food came out right away. Things like that. It was amazing.
Those people work so hard. Five or six times a day, people check on your room, asking if you need anything. It was the little things that we don’t see here. Things Americans probably wouldn’t do.
Q: So how was the food over there? Is it true that you ate a hamburger made of donkey meat?
A: You go to different restaurants and burgers taste relatively the same, but this one had a little something extra. The next day I found out what it actually was [from my dad].
Q: So your dad knew what it was when you ordered it?
A: He was in [studying] film all night long, so he didn’t know I ordered it until the next day. He said he heard the restaurant downstairs had good burgers, so I tried it. Then I told him the next day that it tasted kind of [weird]. I asked him who he got his information from and he was like, ‘Well you know they’re made of donkey meat, right?’ I just stuck with American food for the rest of the trip.