A great number of Wildcats from the championship teams in the 1990s would go on to play in the NBA. Greats like Walter McCarty, Tony Delk, Jeff Sheppard and Derek Anderson are just a few on the seemingly endless list of former Cats to suit up as pros.
One vital piece to those championship puzzles, however, chose a different path.
After winning two national titles (1996 and 1998) at Kentucky, Cameron Mills has been involved in ministry ever since.
Mills first spoke about his faith while he was still at UK. As a member of the Fellowship for Christian Athletes on campus, he made his first speaking appearance during the offseason in Maysville, Ky., at a rally for high schoolers. After the event was over, one girl approached him in tears and thanked him for changing her life.
Her words turned out to have quite an impact on him.
“I felt like I made a difference in her life,” Mills said. “I felt like if I could do that each time I spoke, that’s what I wanted to do.”
Mills continued to travel around the state with FCA and speak about his faith during summers and down time in the offseason. However, college wasn’t the point in his life that he realized he wanted to do that for a living. He knew long before that.
“Since I was 12 years old it felt like this is what I was supposed to do, what I wanted to do and what God called me to do,” Mills said.
Winning two national championships in a college career put Mills in a group with a very select few athletes. As thrilling as both of those rides were, the walk-on appeared in just seven games during the 1996 season. He found that his role as a major contributor off the bench in ’98 made for a more memorable journey.
“The ’96 championship was nice, but I didn’t really play,” Mill said. “I was kind of the bench guy in that one. As great as that was to win, the ’98 one was more special to me because I feel like I actually helped the team win those games.”
Given the talent on Mills’ Kentucky teams, he was never relied heavily upon to provide scoring (he scored 365 career points at at UK), but he was a fan favorite and somewhat of a Wildcat legend for his uncanny ability to hit clutch shots in big games.
His career 47.4 three-point shooting percentage proves he was at his best when he was spotting up. His go-ahead 3-pointer and subsequent fist-pump late in 1998 Elite Eight comeback against Duke provided a legendary moment that has found its way into UK’s highlight video that is played before every home game.
The success and rock star status of the Kentucky basketball teams at that time ended up playing right into Mills’ post-basketball career goals. Word spread quickly that Mills was making appearances to speak, and after the championship in ’98 the invitations seemed to pile up. By the time he left UK after the ’98 season, he had speaking arrangements lined up for the next year and a half to jumpstart his current 13-year career in ministry.
“When I would tell people that I was going into full-time ministry, one of the most common responses I got was, ‘Well, what are you going to do after that?,’ as if that was something I was planning on doing for a year and a half or two years before I had to get a real job,” Mills said. “But I’ve been able to keep my speaking schedule fairly full for 13 years now.”
Mills’ passion for what he does is evident not only in his dedication and desire to travel the country to speak, but also in his asking price (or lack thereof) for an appearance. He is more concerned with getting his message across and using his platform as a former Kentucky basketball player to spread the word of God than he is about the money.
“It’s never a certain amount I have to have,” Mills said. “It’s whatever you can afford or whatever you feel comfortable giving. It’s been wonderful that I’ve been able to do that.”
Mills’ speaking appearances also helped land him a job in marketing development with the Lexington-based company Lifeline Home Healthcare. After turning down the offer a couple times because he didn’t want it to become a distraction from his ministry, Mills later accepted when Lifeline told him he would be paid by the hour, could work as much or little as he wanted, and that ministry should still be his top priority.
Mills now works for Lifeline’s parent company, LHC Group, and maintains his speaking schedule due to the flexibility of the company.
Although his ministry allows him to travel all over the country to speak, Mills still lives in Lexington where a majority of his work is done. Staying close to UK has allowed him follow what John Calipari has been able to do with the current Cats team.
Even though he never played for Coach Cal, like many former players, he likes what he sees.
“Obviously he’s a great recruiter and basketball coach, and that’s what we all expected,” Mills said. “But I think the thing with Coach that we’ve been so happy to have is his ability to understand the responsibilities of being the head coach at Kentucky. You have to engage with the fans. They are what makes this program what it is, and he’s done a fantastic job with that.”
Part of this year’s team that Mills has been particularly impressed with is Darius Miller and his senior leadership. Mills was a senior on the ’98 championship team, so he understands just how critical it is to have an upperclassman leader who can serve as the calming influence on the floor during adversity.
“Darius is the kind of player that makes it easier on a coach,” Mills said. “If we do anything as special as the expectations are this year, I think Darius is going to be the key.”
As Mills continues to speak about his faith while traveling the country (he’ll be in Kansas during part of the NCAA Tournament) he’ll have a close eye on Miller and this Kentucky team, hoping they can capture some of the magic that he was a part of during his title runs in the 90s.
To find out more about Mills, visit his ministry website at www.cmm21.com, follow him on Twitter at @CameronMillz or find him on Facebook.