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For young McMillan, it's game time year round
Seattle Times staff columnist
One game has ended. And, in an hour, another will begin.
Jamelle McMillan leaves the steam of the gym and walks into the sunshine, taking a brief break from basketball.
These afternoons are his spring break, and these games will be his summer vacation. This is the beginning of his last waltz, the final days before he decides which college he will be attending in the fall of 2007.
From Wednesday nights inside the auxiliary gym at Edmundson Pavilion, to trips to Dallas, Nashville, Portland and Augusta, he is playing against the country's best high-school sophomores and juniors, preparing for his final season at O'Dea and for even bigger games in his future.
"You definitely know this is your time, this is your opportunity," McMillan said this past weekend, sitting outside Hec Ed. "In a way, there's pressure on you, knowing all the great college coaches are watching you. But I've been doing this for the last three years, so I've kind of gotten over the shyness or the intimidation factor."
For the last three years, McMillan has played guard for O'Dea High School. He has played on two state championship teams, and he made it to the championship game last season.
In the summers, he has traveled with the AAU team Friends of Hoop, and his teammates have been a who's who of Seattle high-school basketball — Martell Webster, Jon Brockman, Mitch Johnson, Spencer Hawes, Isaiah Thomas.
He has played in gyms that are ringed with the same college coaches he sees every winter on ESPN — Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Bruce Weber, Ben Howland, Billy Donovan.
"As a little guy, I got to play with Martell and Mitch and Jon," McMillan said. "And they did a great job of making me feel comfortable. Still it definitely was overwhelming at first, playing in front of those coaches."
McMillan, 6 feet 3, has become a leader for both O'Dea and FOH. He has impressed enough of the coaches who have ringed those tiny gyms to earn scholarship offers from father Nate's alma mater, North Carolina State, and from Arizona State, Clemson and Georgia Tech.
It seems every good team has a player like McMillan, a high-school junior who acts as mature as a CEO. He's the kind of guard coaches want making decisions and the defender who is expected to stop the other team's best scorer.
But it hasn't always been easy for McMillan, being the son of Nate McMillan, whose retired jersey number hangs from the KeyArena rafters. Nate, of course, played and coached in Seattle and is in the second season of a massive rebuilding job with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Jamelle hears taunts from fans in the stands at high-school games. Hears comments from the players on other local AAU teams, comments even from students at his own school.
"The name definitely carries a lot of weight," Jamelle said. "My dad was here for almost 20 years. Did a lot of great things here. I know, because of that, there are high expectations for me. People expect my team to be in the state championship every year. They expect me to go to some major D-I school. They expect perfect games from me every game. I've gotten used to that.
"I think it's made me mentally tougher. I tell myself, 'Just do what you do best. Run your team. Play the right way. And whatever happens, happens.' And whatever people think, well, when I go to college, I won't even see those people."
Jamelle also admits he is fortunate to have a father who has been through everything he is going through. Nate is intensely involved in his son's basketball. He attends many of Jamelle's AAU practices and as many high-school and summer games as his job allows.
"He's both father and coach, 100 percent, all the time," Jamelle said. "When he's at home, there's lots of lectures on life, lots of lectures on success and failure, working hard, determination, mental toughness. Bad grades are not tolerated. With him, it's, 'No grades, no court.' I've been fortunate to have him around for a pretty long time, but this last year was tough with him down there. He was pretty stressed out.
"People tend to think it's always about the game with us, that he's in the gym with me 24/7 and dragging me through drills and trying to kill me on the court. But he's just a normal dad. ...
"He's tough on me, but I think that's for the better. I think I've matured a lot quicker than maybe I was supposed to, which I don't think is a bad thing."
The hour is almost up. Another game is about to begin. Spring will meander into summer. The games will continue, sometimes two a day, from one coast to another.
McMillan walks out of the bright sunshine and into the blue-white light of the gym. Walks back into his future.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company