If there seems to be a spot in the sky that’s just brighter than elsewhere it’s because John Mills and his beloved Auburn Tigers basketball team is still dancing.
John is grinning. I know, you say he was always grinning, but this grin is wider than usual, pulling atmospheres together. How else do you explain the cold snap that came through the area after several March days in the eighties?
John’s physical presence may not be with us, but I refuse to call him “late” or “gone,” because I also refuse to believe he wasn’t watching that big screen in the sky as his Tigers took down – in succession – Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky, the bluest of the all-time blue bloods in college basketball. It completed a trifecta no one saw coming, certainly not when the Tigers were 9-7 in SEC play and battling their way off the NCAA bubble.
Charles Barkley, the second greatest Auburn fan after John, called Sunday’s overtime win over Kentucky to reach its first-ever Final Four “…the greatest day in Auburn basketball history.”
Thank you Sir Obvious.
John was a guard on the 1953 state champion Eufaula High basketball team, a squad that went 34-1 despite the town having less than 7,000 citizens. There were only two classifications at the time and EHS won the larger one. No team south of Montgomery had ever won a state title until EHS managed to do so.
Mills often said EHS Coach Jack Powell, who passed last year, demanded each player on the team to do their job and do it at the best of their ability, regardless of whether it meant shooting, rebounding, passing, cheering the team on from the bench, or getting the water bottles distributed at the proper time.
John must be especially proud from his front row seat watching Auburn guard Jared Harper, my favorite player in recent memory. He did his job and more Sunday. I don’t think a cheetah can go from half-court to the goal any quicker than Harper. As a late uncle used to joke, they used to call him “quick,” now they call him “instant.” Kentucky players called him “gone.”
Harper also proved he’s as tough as anyone. His two late free throws that sealed the win in overtime came just after he took a fall resembling an ice skater mistiming a triple Lutz. He should have been hurt. Most guys would still be down. Instead, he stepped up and canned two free throws with 9.1 seconds left.
The result has Auburn dancin’ and a good friend of many in these parts grinnin’ like never before.