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Originally published Wednesday, February 25, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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McMillan gives lift for Sun Devils

Jamelle McMillan, the former O'Dea High School standout, returns to Seattle for Arizona State playing a new position and giving a new lift to the Sun Devils off the bench. Arizona State faces the Washington Huskies on Thursday in a showdown that could go a long way in determining the Pac-10 conference men's basketball championship.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Arizona St. @ UW, 8 p.m., FSN

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Jamelle McMillan walked on the Great Wall and was granted entry to the Forbidden City.

And between cultural pursuits while accompanying his father, Nate McMillan, to Beijing with the U.S. Olympic Team last summer, he also soaked in some basketball knowledge.

Those hardwood lessons will prove useful Thursday when Jamelle McMillan and the rest of the Arizona State Sun Devils visit Washington for an 8 p.m. game at Edmundson Pavilion that figures to go a long way toward deciding the Pac-10 title. Washington is 11-4 in conference play, Arizona State 10-4.

McMillan, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound sophomore guard who played at O'Dea High School while his father coached the Sonics, has taken on a vital role for the Sun Devils. He has become a dangerous option when opponents key on stars James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph.

In adjusting to a new role as shooting guard, he has hit 12 of his last 25 three-pointers, and 7 of 14 in Arizona State's past two games. Those home wins against USC and Arizona allowed the Sun Devils to close on the Huskies, and McMillan has averaged almost nine points over the last five games, compared to a season average of 4.8.

"He's playing with a lot of confidence and shooting the ball well," said ASU coach Herb Sendek of McMillan, a reserve after starting 16 games at point guard last season.

McMillan said he likes his new role as a two guard, saying he played that position often for the local AAU team Friends of Hoops when his backcourt mate was Washington's Isaiah Thomas. The two often traded duties between point and shooting guard.

"It's been successful so it's something we've stuck to," McMillan said of his responsibility shift at ASU.

He has always been a mature, thoughtful player in the mold of his father, a longtime star for the Sonics.

But Jamelle said he took an even more determined approach to the game after spending 16 days this summer around the Olympic team. Nate McMillan was an assistant for the squad.

The younger McMillan became especially close to Dwight Howard.

"Preparation is everything, and that's something my dad has tried to ingrain in me my whole life, but it's finally proving true," he said.

"To see it from the best in the world really, really put an emphasis on it, and it's really helped me this year."

His dad's presence hasn't hurt, either.

Nate McMillan was in the seats in Corvallis, Ore., on Feb. 7, when Jamelle began his recent hot streak with a career-high 14 points at Oregon State. Dad was also in the stands for Jamelle's 11-point game against USC.

Jamelle considers coming home to Edmundson Pavilion, where he helped O'Dea to a state Class 3A title in 2007, a big deal.

The Huskies, who had received a commitment from Thomas, never really recruited McMillan. He went to Arizona State because of Sendek, who had previously coached at North Carolina State, Nate McMillan's alma mater. Jamelle was intrigued by the rebuilding job at ASU.

Dad won't be attending Thursday, however, because the Blazers are playing in Texas this week.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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