Houston’s Caleb Mills made his name known as one of the top freshmen in the country during the 2019-20 season.
As a redshirt freshman, the 6-foot 3-inch guard from Arden, North Carolina, led the Cougars in scoring with 13.2 points per game, joining Rob Williams (1979-80) as only the second freshman in school history to lead the team in scoring.
Along with being Houston’s top scorer, Mills was twice named the American Athletic Conference Freshman of the Week, was unanimously voted to the AAC’s all-freshman team and also earned a spot on the second-team all-conference.
Senior forward Brison Gresham had a unique way of describing what it is like to play with a special talent like Mills.
“It’s like being at Benihana,” Gresham said. “You’re waiting on your food, and you’re sitting there and the person’s doing all the tricks with the food. I just love watching him play.”
Now as a sophomore, the expectations placed on Mills have risen to extreme heights as he was named the AAC’s 2020 Preseason Player of the Year.
But Mills does not pay attention to all the recognition and accolades he receives nor does he put much value into it.
“Not much really,” Mills said when asked about what it meant to be named the AAC’s Preseason Player of the Year. “I’m just looking forward to getting better and going to war with my teammates.”
And this is the exact type of answer one would expect to hear when asking Mills about how he views his personal achievements because he has a team-first mentality.
Head coach Kelvin Sampson said Mills is one of the best team players he has ever coached.
“(Caleb Mills) has no ego,” Sampson said. “When I say no ego, if you were to look at his Twitter page the only thing he ever retweets is when something good happens to his teammates. And that’s a reflection of that kid’s character and what a great teammate he is. Caleb is an unbelievable teammate. He’s a team-first guy.”
The reason Mills exhibits a team-first mentality and is always making sacrifices for the good of the team is because he is hungry to win. Mills views winning a championship as a far greater achievement than any individual award he receives.
He has come to understand that winning requires a full team effort and each individual player must cast their selfish desires aside in order to better the team as a whole.
“Well growing up, most everybody on this team was the best player on their team, whether it was high school or any time leading up to this,” Mills said. “So in some aspects, you’re going to be selfish. But when you really want to win, you understand you have to (make sacrifices) … It’s a team effort. It’s not individual.”
In order for the Cougars to be successful this season, Mills knows he must step up as a leader since Houston lost its two primary leaders on the court from last year in Nate Hinton, who is currently entered into the NBA Draft, and Fabian White Jr., who suffered a torn ACL in May.
“Just being a better leader,” Mills said when talking about his primary goals for the 2020-2021 season. “I was kind of in the rearview just letting Nate lead the group, letting Fab. So that’s really the biggest adjustment me and Marcus (Sasser) specifically made this year.”
Mills worked hard on improving his leadership skills over the offseason and continues to strive to be a better leader every day because he knows that leadership will not only help him improve on the court, but will also give him the skills to overcome any challenges the world throws at him in everyday life.
“I feel like (leadership) is important just to be a regular person,” Mills said. “That’s something you should try to better yourself in every day. I feel like that’s one of the things I need to take my game to another level. Being a better leader.”