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Monday, December 11, 2023

Men's Basketball

Heading into his first full season, Mills wants ‘to win on this team’

Caleb Mills, a year after graduating from Arden, North Carolina, to join Houston as a redshirt, is heading into his first full year with the Cougars. | Trevor Nolley/The Cougar

A year after graduating from high school in Arden, North Carolina, to join Houston as a redshirt, Caleb Mills is heading into his first full year with the Cougars. | Trevor Nolley/The Cougar

Last season, the miraculous run Houston made to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament has kept fans wondering how this year’s team will perform and how far it will go.

The Cougars lost a few significant players from the previous season, such as starting center Breaon Brady and backcourt starters Corey Davis Jr., Armoni Brooks and Galen Robinson Jr.

With the excitement surrounding the return of UH basketball, all eyes will be on the returning players from last year’s team, one of which is redshirt freshman Caleb Mills.

From Arden, North Carolina to Houston

Mills, who graduated early from high school last year, spent the last season practicing with the team and preparing for this moment.

The North Carolina native graduated as a four-star recruit, ranked No. 117 nationally and No. 6 in the state of North Carolina, and is ready to make noise this season as he will finally suit up and play for the Cougars.

“I came here because I knew that I could win here,” Mills said. “There’s something exciting that we got going on here. I want to win on this team, and above that, I wanna win under coach Sampson.”

Head coach Kelvin Sampson has been preparing Mills to compete at the highest level he can. The player’s day-by-day process dating back to last season is the key to his development and confidence.

“I think it certainly helps his confidence,” Sampson said. “He practiced against Davis, Brooks and Robinson last year every single day. They had to guard him and he had to guard them, so his ability to score the ball when they were on him gave him confidence.”

Getting comfortable

The time spent practicing with the team last season allowed Mills to get a feel for the program, build chemistry between his teammates and form a bond that will be the base of Cougar basketball in the approaching season.

“We just get closer and closer every day,” Mills said. “We start understanding more of what it is to be a true team. I know they got my back and they know I got theirs, regardless of any of our personal goals because our main goal is to win it all, to win the conference championship and to win the national championship.”

Even with Houston slotted as co-favorites in the American Athletic Conference along with Memphis heading into this season, Mills is maintaining his focus on his game and his team getting ready for the season.

“We don’t really feed into all of that,” Mills said. “We are just going to take it game by game, try to get better every day, and hopefully we can get to accomplish what it is that we want to accomplish.”

Extra help

With the new season edging closer and closer, the team faced unanswered questions in the form of sophomore guard Quentin Grimes’s eligibility. 

With the Kansas transfer granted eligibility from the NCAA to play in 2019-20, there is a relief for Sampson and Mills that goes beyond basketball.

“It was an emotional strain for the young man having to walk around, practice and go to school without even knowing if he was going to play this year,” Sampson said. “The thing that I was most happy about is that he is going to be able to play and not sit out.”

Mills was also pleased to hear the news about Grimes.

“The fact that he doesn’t have to sit out makes all of us happy for him,” Mills said. “We as a team know that he can help us and make us better, so to have him be able to play, we are all happy for him.”

There are some big shoes to fill after what last year’s team was able to accomplish in reaching the AAC Championship Game as well as the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament, but Mills will be looking to step into those shoes and play a role in helping this team get back to the top of the conference.

“I’m gonna come out and play hard every night,” Mills said. “It’s not necessarily all about what I am going to do because sometimes I might not have a great night, but I got guys with me who are gonna help me out. That’s our culture here, and I’m going to do everything I can to keep building that here.”

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