Silas Mills, an assistant coach for the Salt Lake Community College men’s basketball team, didn’t always play the game. In fact, he didn’t start until he was 14 years old.
Mills started playing basketball with his cousin while growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He had a physique of a basketball player, standing six feet tall by the time he was in junior high.
But Mills liked to play baseball more, and even though his friends would tease him — saying “you look like a girl playing baseball” — he still loved to take the field. He also loved bowling and says he always wanted to be more like Carl Anthony.
Mills says he felt “dorky” when he first started playing basketball, but knew he was athletic because he could outjump everybody. He was very ambitious, competitive and driven to be the best, and no one could score on him.
It wasn’t until his sophomore year in high school that he really picked up a passion for basketball.
Mills says he preferred to “run with an older crew” and knew he would rather shoot hoops than be on the streets like he had been prior to playing.
His talent continued to grow during his junior year. Mills was recognized as one of the top players in the state of Wisconsin and he also played for the Victaney Milwaukee Warriors of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU).
His high school was ranked fourth and he gained interest from big names like then-Utah coach Rick Majerus and Hall of Famer Al McGuire. But his basketball career really took off as a senior.
Mills was invited to the McDonald’s All-American Game, where he had a chance to be around future NBA stars, including Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Glenn Robinson and Michael Finley. He took second place in the dunk contest, and in his words, “held his own in the All-Star game.”
The experience showed Mills that he had a chance — and a purpose — to leave the ghetto and do something with his life. He says he was still immature, but ready to take the next step.
“Like the bible says, Silas on his journey,” Mills adds.
He was convinced with all of his heart that he could do big things with his life and overcome his situation.
“Coming out of the ghetto as am African-American male, you’re not expected to live past 25 years old,” Mills says. He felt he had beat all the odds, and past the mindset of the environment he was in.
After high school, he came to Utah, first playing at SLCC for legendary coach Norm Parrish and later for Majerus at the U.
“I could have [gone] to Kentucky, DePaul, Marquette, Kansas, Texas, Texas Tech … pretty much anywhere,” Mills says. “But I was [someone] that couldn’t pass the SAT or ACT so I decided to come to Utah at the time.”
Mills blames the public school system for not preparing inner-city kids for the SAT and ACT. But coming to Utah was a humbling experience.
He understood what unconditional love was from Doug Terry, a player at the U. Terry took Mills into his home; he lived with him, worked out with him, quoted Bible passages with him. He made Mills feel like he was somebody.
After a pro career that spanned the globe, Mills has found his home at SLCC as an assistant coach. But his remarkable journey gives players and fans something to aspire to.