Photo courtesy University of Michigan.
From Glory Days featuring Terry Mills
Although the University of Michigan’s basketball program may be best known in recent history for the Fab Five era that started in 1991, it was two years earlier that the Wolverines won their first NCAA men’s basketball championship. One of those players on the 1989 championship team was a Metro Detroit native by the name of Terry Mills. Mills was born and raised in Romulus and was awarded the prestigious “Mr. Basketball” title for all of Michigan in 1986 when he played at Romulus High School. During his years as a team, Terry did not simply spend time attending Pistons games at the Palace of Auburn Hills, but also had opportunities to train with the Pistons’ players because of his uncle John Long who played for the Pistons during that time. These connections allowed him to hone his skills against players such as Greg Kelser and help overcome the intimidation factor that comes with playing against star players.
Mills was ranked as the second best recruit in the entire country during his senior year and was pursued by multiple top-tier schools. He visited Kansas, Syracuse, Ohio State, and Kentucky which ended up being his second choice for college. Mills chose the University of Michigan in part because of the recruiting skills of Head Coach Bill Frieder. Frieder was relentless and even called Mills from the locker room after the Wolverines lost a game to Georgia Tech and told Mills they could have really used him that night. Prior to the 1989 NCAA title, legendary football coach Bo Schembechler came into the basketball locker room and challenged each and every one of the players to be better, which may have helped motivate them to the school’s first championship.
After his collegiate career was over, Terry took part in an Olympic trial event which helped generate more interest in him from NBA teams. Although he knew he would be drafted, Mills did not attend the 1990 NBA draft because it was common for teams to trade their draft picks before the season started. “Looking back, that was an immature choice, I wish I had really experienced the draft,” Terry says now. Sure enough, Mills was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks but traded to the Denver Nuggets before he would even play a single game for them.
Mills felt like he was in limbo that summer because of the trade and spent the summer playing pro basketball in Greece for P.A.O.K. B.C., Thessaloniki, Greece. This was an experience unlike any other according to Terry. “You had guys on the concourse with rifles and fans throwing nickels, dimes and quarters on the court. On top of that, in the locker room at halftime, my teammates would be smoking cigarettes and drinking wine.” This bizarre atmosphere really drove Terry Mills to want to come back into the NBA.
His NBA career was not as fruitful as his college career however. Fans tell him that part of this was because he was ahead of his time as a stretch four player, which is much more common now than in the 1990s. In 1992 he would wind up on his hometown Detroit Pistons and learned the tricks of the trade from the nucleus of the Bad Boys era: Dennis Rodman and Isiah Thomas. Although he loved his time as a Piston, he wished he could have been part of their championship winning teams which he had just missed.
After five years, he surprised Detroit fans by taking less money and leaving for the Miami Heat. What motivated Mills to do so was the knowledge that if he stayed for a new contract with the Pistons, they would cut his cousin Grant Long to trim their salary cap and he did not want to see his cousin lose his job. At the same time Terry was struggling with knee injuries, he had just had his third surgery on the same knee which caused his career to wind down. In 2001, he played his final season in the NBA for the Indiana Pacers. Although he did not play a lot that season, he saw why the younger players would get so much more playing time. It was because the team was investing more in them than the aging veterans.
“When it’s all over, you have to adjust to not being in the limelight,” Mills recalls as one of the challenges when transitioning to life after sports. One of the first things he did after retirement was to get his degree, he was only ten credits from graduating when he turned pro. After that he began working as an assistant coach for Henry Ford Community College where he had a chance to see what it was like for players who were not fortunate enough to play at a division one school like Michigan and helped make him more humble and thankful for his opportunities.
After four years as an assistant coach, he was approached by broadcaster Matt Shepard who asked Terry if he would be his new radio color commentator for Michigan basketball. Currently, Mills finishing up his fifth season in the broadcast booth, which not only allows him to be up close and personal with the University of Michigan games but also allows him to be around the players. Mills takes no credit for what the players accomplish on the court but he does help uplift players that are down either because they are struggling on the court or are homesick.
Not only is he broadcasting but Terry Mills has other hobbies as well. He enjoys hunting and fishing as well as drag racing his highly customized muscle car as an amateur. Although he has not been to the dragstrip for a while, he assures people he still has the car, he has just been too busy to drive it lately.
When it comes to transitions in life, Terry Mills says you need to find out what you want to do and do it 100 percent. He also recommends making close friends along the way and keeping them close, as they will have your back when things are down and they keep you grounded.
You can catch the full interview with Terry Mills this Sunday, March 18th on From Glory Days, on TV20 Detroit at 6:00 a.m. Set your alarms or DVRs to hear Terry’s story directly from this NCAA Basketball Champion himself.
Check out other athletes featured on the From Glory Days page.
Michael Holzman is a graduate of the University of Michigan-Dearborn with honors, with a BA in Communications. He also has a communications and broadcasting degree from Specs Howard School of Media Arts. A native of the Detroit area, Michael is now an associate producer for the TV show, “From Glory Days” and also works for Yellow Flag Productions, primarily reporting and gathering video for their popular show, “State Champs Sports Network.”