Australian coach leads the way for women in African basketball


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Nairobi (AFP)

Growing up in Sydney, Australia’s largest city, Liz Mills dreamed of one day becoming a professional basketball coach.

Little did she know she would eventually make herself known thousands of miles away in Africa, where she made history by becoming the first woman to coach a men’s basketball team in a continental tournament.

After a decade in Africa, Mills is now the head coach of the Kenyan Morans and in no time has led them to their first AfroBasket Championship in 28 years.

Originally from Australia, Mills began her African adventure in 2011 in Zambia, where she coached the Heroes for the 2011-2012 season and they ended up winning the national championship.

“I was a bit rare… I felt discriminated against in terms of opportunities,” she says, adding that she was often overlooked because of her age and gender.

Mills says she is now proud to be a “trailblazer” as a coach.

“I hope I have been able to inspire women coaches in Africa in particular to start working with men’s teams as well as with women’s teams across the continent.”

But she says that in 2021, she shouldn’t be the first woman to coach a men’s national basketball team, and called on federations to do more to involve women and girls.

“I plan to keep the door open and encourage so many women to come through the door… so hopefully in the next couple of years it will be the 100th or 500th to do what I did this year.”

After serving as an assistant coach for the Zambia and Cameroon men’s basketball national teams, Mills joined the Kenyan Morans in January this year.

After its last appearance at AfroBasket in 1993, the team made its return to the top level continental championships which run the Rwandan capital Kigali from August 24 to September 5.

– ‘More inches’ –

“In 2012, I said in Zambia that I wanted to be the first woman to coach at AfroBasket,” says Mills.

“Qualifying Kenyan Morans is a dream come true. There have been a lot of ups and downs to get here, but I’m very happy that I was able to get there.

On the pitch, she wears black leather knee-length boots and black jeans as well as a team’s red polo shirt, claiming the heels give her “more inches” alongside the towering players.

Mills saw the Morans beat African champions Angola 74-73 11 times in Cameroon in February to break their nearly three-decade absence from the continent’s basketball centerpiece.

She expresses her confidence that African basketball is heading for bigger and better things.

Mills believes African basketball is heading for bigger and better things Simon MAINA AFP

“I think the standards are only getting better, with the development of NBA academies, Giants of Africa, Basketball Without Borders, independent junior camps and academies. With all these structures in place, the basketball in Africa is moving in the right direction. “

– Aim for surprise –

Asked about the secret to her own success as a coach, Mills blames it on her philosophy of building good relationships with her players.

“Players don’t care what you know until they know how much you care about them, and not just as a player but as a person on the pitch.”

Mills hopes to build on this philosophy as she seeks to take Kenya to greater heights.

“The AfroBasket is a first step on a long journey to the World Cup,” she says.

“We are working to qualify for the World Cup after the Afro-basketball series in September. We hope to finish among the best African teams and qualify for the 2025 World Cup.”

Mills says preparations for the tournament have been deliberately low-key.

“We are not going to put a limit on our goal,” she adds. “We’ve tried to stay under the radar and we’re going to surprise a lot of teams when we get to AfroBasket.”

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