(I'm embedded with the Baylor men this week during the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City. My all-access tour of all things Baylor continues with an inside look at Baylor's pregame scout and chapel service prior to Thursday night's game against Texas.)
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A moment earlier Paul Mills' voice was peeling paint in a downtown Marriott conference room. As the son of a minister, he's good at it. It was his duty Thursday afternoon to conduct the chapel service prior to Baylor's Big 12 quarterfinal game against Texas.
The Baylor assistant was quoting Bible verse and talking about drawn swords and redemption and being a man. Now he is quiet talking about the man who gave him this gift.
"He has Alzheimer's," Mills said of his father Kerry. "He got it when he was 56."
Mills holds it together but only for a moment. Kerry Mills was a minister at the North Belt Church of the Nazarene, a pillar in the community and in his family. The evangelical Mills tree stretches back to the Civil War where, Paul says, the family claims a chaplain in the battlefield.
The battle is different these days and nearly brings Mills, 35, to those tears.
"The ones that crush you are the kids whose parents trusted you and they just wondered off," Mills says, "I know John Thompson is hurting because of Allen Iverson ... divorce, [allegedly] gambling addiction, alcohol addiction. It crushes you. Those kids, you literally [say], we're going to make you better men. That's why you stay plugged into those kids long after they graduate."
These current Bears seem plugged into Mill's message. They have led the program to its highest point since the Armageddon of seven years ago.
"You couldn't go anywhere but up," Mills said of a program burned to the ground seven years after the murder of a player. "You're young, you're a dreamer. We thought we could do anything."
Now they know they can do anything. Baylor is 24-6, ranked 20th and the darling of at least one scribe here in the media room. "I think Baylor could go to the Final Four," he said.
Thursday night's game might be the feature game of the quarterfinals. There is no love lost between Drew and Rick Barnes. The dichotomy between Thursday's presentaitons was amazing. Drew broke down Texas and its players with precision, going so far as to break down the jump formation. Mills brought the thunder from above.
"I would equate assistant jobs to youth ministers," Mills said. "You are always on call. You've got this issue at 10 p.m. I've been in their apartments at 4 a.m. I've been in them at 1 a.m. I've been in them at 2 in the afternoon."
What kind of things happen at 4 in the morning?
"It could be anything: 'Coach, I haven't slept and my brain is fried.' Maybe they have to do a paper. I tell them, 'Come meet me at the office ... and ya'll can type there' ".
I'm trying to find a whiff of phoniness in this all-access journey and I can't. After Mills got done speaking, I wanted to pick up sword, not a ball, and go after it. Last season Mills got on a ministerial role about the same time as the team when it made its run to the NIT championship game. He usually alternates with assistant Jerome Tang. When the Bears started winning, Mills took over until the end of the season.
It's all part of the plan -- Drew's, not necessarily God's.
"Our first couple of years it was fanatical," Mills said. "We were there by 8 [in the morning], go home from 6-9 [at night] and we would go from 9 to 3 in the morning."
Nowadays, Baylor can "relax" -- a little. Mills' message to the players started with a line from Joshua: "What man is a man who does not leave his world better?"
"God is on the side of Texas, as much as he is on the side of us," Mills said. "We're not any more special than anyone else because we're Baylor."
Except in basketball. Definitely, they hope, in basketball.