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Growing up the Wildcat way

By STEVE LEE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 16, 2003

WESLEY CHAPEL -- Two days after capping a six-year run of youth league and high school championships, the nucleus of Wesley Chapel's basketball team spent an afternoon on Clearwater Beach.

They practice hard and give their all on the court, but seniors Tyrone Tomlin, Greg Harrison, Zach Mills, Chris Roberts, David Simpson and junior Travis Lemaster know how to have fun too.

Kent Mills, the Wildcats' outgoing coach, and Conrad Foss, founder of East Pasco Basketball, instilled those attributes early on.

Fundamentals became the watchword for that group of sixth-graders who formed a 12-and-under East Pasco Basketball team that finished ninth in the Youth Basketball Association of America nationals and fourth as eighth-graders. Foss and Mills, however, made sure the players had a good time as they learned.

"We had a warm-up that taught them dribble, pivot and pass," recalled Foss, who also coached those players at Weightman Middle and for one season at Wesley Chapel before Kent Mills took over. "We'd put them in a circle. They got a kick out of doing it, because it was a Harlem Globetrotters-type of thing.

"Every bit of it was fundamentals and they were having fun with it."

Zach Mills, the coach's son who set four individual records this season (see box), echoed the sentiments of his teammates by saying he would have preferred playing in Friday's state final at the Lakeland Center, where the Wildcats lost in Wednesday's semifinal to Miami Monsignor Pace, 68-49.

The team, along with friends, made the best of a day off of school, Mills added.

The basketball group included Chris Roberts' brother Kenny -- a senior who played basketball until his junior season, then opted to focus on football and track -- and Eric Sorensen, who came to Wesley Chapel as a freshman.

Often, the Mills' home in unincorporated central Pasco County would be filled with a half dozen or more basketball players. It only made sense, coach Mills reasoned, to have some of the teens who lived in Dade City stay over since games usually were played on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings.

"It was easier just having them around driving wise," coach Mills said, noting that East Pasco traveled throughout the state for weekend tournaments. "As they got older they became part of the family."

Teresa Mills, Kent's wife, got up early to cook breakfast before the team headed to a tourney and sometimes did their laundry upon their return.

"She kind of fell in love with them the same time I did," Mills said of his wife.

"It was just like having other brothers," said Zach Mills, who has a half-brother, 20-year-old Kyle Monday, and an 11-year-old sister, Bobbi. "You were never really bored around the house."

Time spent at the Mills' was one big game. When not shooting hoops in the driveway, throwing things around the house or swimming, the teens would venture out on the nearby Hunter's Green golf course at night and play capture the flag pole.

"They were just fun and crazy (teens) that were a little wild," coach Mills said. "They were just a fun group to be around."

Foss and Mills realized that the then-12-year-olds had the raw skills to become solid basketball players. Both are proud of the group's achievements.

"Think about it," Foss said. "You have kids that made it to the state tournament (twice) as a team and none of them are Division I players. It's just a group of kids that understood the team concept and their roles.

"They jelled so well together and they've been that way for six years. They like each other. It's a fun group, because they do have a sense of humor about life and about themselves."

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