Trailblazer Mills taps heartland for Rio inspiration

Mon Jul 11, 2016 6:29am EDT
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By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Basketballer Patty Mills will don the green and gold of Australia at the Rio de Janeiro Games but gained inspiration for his third Olympics in the red dust of his country's vast, empty heartland.

The first indigenous Australian to win an NBA title, the San Antonio Spurs point guard will hope to blaze a new trail in Rio by becoming the first to win an Olympic medal in the sport.

But for 27-year-old Mills, last week's trip out to Uluru, the massive red rock that rises improbably out of the central Australian desert, was all about the team.

Mills took the Olympic squad on a tour of the rock which is sacred to local Aboriginals and was the first Australian stop of the torch relay for the 2000 Sydney Games.

The 'Boomers' players helped open a basketball court at Mutitjulu, a remote community in the shadow of the 348-metre monolith.

The idea for the team bonding trip was born out of a team ceremony last year where Sydney track champion Cathy Freeman and Lydia Lassila, a Winter Olympic skiing gold medalist, gave rousing speeches.

A hero to Mills, Freeman lit the cauldron at the Games' opening ceremony and became the first Aboriginal to win a track gold medal with her emotional victory in the 400 meters.

"Once they were done with their speeches, the whole room was so inspired and motivated that we all wanted to jump on a plane right then and start playing," Mills told Reuters in an interview on Monday after he was named in the final 12-man squad for Rio.   Continued...

Feb 24, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills (8) celebrates after a basket against the Sacramento Kings during the third quarter at Sleep Train Arena. The San Antonio Spurs defeated the Sacramento Kings 108-92. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports