A Hometown All-Star: The Paul Millsap Story (Part Two)

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(KNOE 8 Sports) - "Any time you're a salesman, you have got to believe in what you're selling," Paul's uncle Johnny Simmons said. "I believed in Keith Richard. I believed in Louisiana Tech. I believed in Ruston. So for me, that was an easy sell."

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As Paul Millsap's career at Grambling Lab High School began to wind down, Louisiana's "Mr. Basketball" had a big decision to make.

"I was at Louisiana Tech as an assistant," said Simmons, who worked with the Bulldogs from 1999 to 2005. "At the time, I had just moved out of my house, and so (Paul's mother) actually was working three jobs, so she needed a little help keeping the guys in control. So I said well, rather me try go and find a place to stay, I'll just live with you until we can find another place to stay. It just so happened I was on the staff, Keith Richard's staff at the time."

Millsap heard from schools from across the country, but none as early as Louisiana Tech and none with the same amount of access.

"You know, it wasn't all the Power 5 schools (recruiting Millsap) then," said Keith Richard, the head coach at Louisiana Tech from 1998 to 2007. "I know Cincinnati had some interest, Arizona had some interest, but they just weren't coming in there hard early."

"We recruited Paul just like we would anybody else," Simmons said. "I tell people all the time, I wrote him hand-written notes every day."

Whether through persistence, luck or sheer circumstance, Uncle Johnny got through to his nephew. Millsap, a family man, stayed home and signed with Louisiana Tech.

"He took one recruiting visit total, and that was at Louisiana Tech," Simmons said.

In signing the three-star prospect, the Bulldogs knew they had something special, but even they couldn't predict what would happen next.

"I remember pulling the team together about two or three weeks into practice and I started going over roles with each player," Richard said. "Paul, looks like you can really rebound, you know, you're rebounding the ball pretty good. You oughta try to maybe be the leading freshman rebounder in the conference, set that as a goal - not knowing that he ended up being the leading rebounder in the whole country."

Leading the NCAA with 12.5 rebounds per game, the WAC Freshman of the Year stormed onto the scene.

"It didn't matter who we played against, whether it was Calhoun Middle School or Kentucky, he was rebounding this ball."

After clinching the NCAA Rebounding Title in each of his first two seasons in Ruston, Millsap set out to make college basketball history.

"I think once he got that one title, you know, then (he got) the second one," Simmons said. "I think after that second one, he said you know what? I can do something pretty special. Let me see if I can go and do it."

Notching over 20 points and 13 rebounds per game, Millsap led Louisiana Tech to a 20-13 record his junior year, culminating in a trip to the 2006 NIT. Clemson knocked the Bulldogs out in the first round of the tournament with a 69-53 win.

"In the locker room (after the game), I told the players to stand up and give Paul an ovation because he just won - we knew it, knew how many (rebounds) he needed and all that. He had just won his third straight, never been done, and they did, they gave him a big (ovation) - because they knew it was a special moment. And then I said Paul, I want you to stand up by yourself and give these guys an ovation for all the shots they missed this year! And they started dying laughing."

That turned out to be Millsap's final collegiate game.

"Mom's working, younger brothers coming out, they had never had much in their lives," Simmons said. "I think he thought maybe at that time, it was time for him to go and go see if maybe he could make some money."

After anxiously waiting until well into the second round of the 2006 NBA Draft, Millsap finally got the call, being selected 47th overall by the Utah Jazz.

The soft-spoken kid from Grambling Lab had beaten the odds and continues to do so to this day. With stops in Utah and Atlanta, Millsap is well into his eleventh year in the NBA, earning his fourth-straight NBA All-Star selection along the way.

"When it's all said and done, he's gonna be mentioned with the greats from North Louisiana," Richard said.

"He can say that coming from where he was, a single mom with nothing," Paul's mother Bettye said. "Listen you guys, younger people, you can do it to."

"Did I think that he would be a four time NBA All-Star at 6'7, 6'8 from Louisiana Tech?" Simmons said. "It's unbelievable where he's gone."

While enjoying his fourth All-Star game, and his second in his home state, Big Paul allowed himself a chance to reflect.

"I'm a big dreamer, but I mean this has been amazing, this ride that I'm on," Millsap said. "All credit to hard work, man. Just working hard every day, just trying to get better and it's what happens."



 
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