Sept. 24, 2011
This is the fourth of eight feature stories on the 2011 Louisiana Tech Athletics Hall of Fame Class which will be enshrined in a ceremony on Sturday, October 1 at 1 p.m., in the Waggonner Room of Thomas Assembly Center. All are invited.
By T. Scott Boatright
When it comes to the Louisiana Tech men's basketball program, arguably no other player got a quicker jump to their college career than Paul Millsap.
The current Utah Jazz forward was a three-year starter for Louisiana Tech from 2002-05 and made an immediate impact for then Coach Keith Richard's Bulldogs from his first practice with the Bulldogs.
"From the word go, Paul was a real joy to watch," Richard said. "We saw first thing what was happening. If you coach long enough, chances are you will eventually run into something special along the way. We knew right away that we had something special in Paul. He has an incredible work ethic and is constantly working to get better. I'm fortunate that for three years, every practice, every game, I got to see something special - and that something was Paul."
Millsap was called by some around Tech as "Mr. Clean" because of the way he cleaned the boards in every game he played. Millsap's uncanny rebounding ability led him to three straight NCAA rebounding titles - a feat that had never before been accomplished in Division I basketball.
"His ability to rebound was amazing from that first day of practice," Richard said. "He seemed to know where the ball was going to be and was waiting on it to get there. I feel really good that in his three years as a Bulldog, we were able to help Paul improve in many phases of the game. But not rebounding. He brought that with him from day one. It was just a natural gift he had.
"It was incredible to see him do it day in and day out from the start, and it was all him. I'd love to take credit for teaching him how to rebound like that, but he brought it with him when he joined the program."
Ruston Daily Leader Sports Editor Buddy Davis covered Millsap during those three seasons he was a Bulldog and agrees that he was magical on the boards.
"I never ceased to be amazed at Paul's rebounding skills, specifically because in so many instances, he was going up against taller, more physical guys," Davis said. "Yet, he would invariably wind up with the rebound. He just flat out outworked his opponents and wasn't going to be denied.
Millsap credits his work ethic more than instinct for his ability on the boards.
"It's tough to say what it is; I think natural instinct does play a part," Millsap said. "But my knack of going to and finding the ball is a result of hard work in practice and determination. I work hard to get better in all phases of the game. Rebounding is just what came more naturally, but it's still hard work that makes it happen."
During his career at Tech, Millsap averaged 12.8 rebounds per contest, including an amazing 13.3 as a senior. He also averaged 18.8 points per game, with his best scoring season coming as a junior when he scored 20.4 per game. He added an average of 2.0 blocks per contest as a Bulldog.
But while the soft-spoken Millsap was undeniably Tech's standout player during his career as a Bulldog, you might not have known it by watching him on the court or listening to him speak.
"He wasn't a big, demonstrative leader," Richard said. "He spoke with his work ethic - always ready to practice and play. But he wasn't vocal.
"The first season he didn't say a word. His sophomore season he said two words. And by his junior year, we got a whole sentence out of him."
Richard said there are three games that still carry strong memories of Millsap's ability.
"For me, there are probably three nights that really stand out. There were two games where he absolutely destroyed opponents on the boards. We played a great game at Texas Tech against (Coach) Bobby Knight, where Paul took over on the boards. Then, during the second half of a game at Southern Illinois, he just took over and won the game for us by himself.
"The third night I especially recall was at Boise State. Paul got another offensive rebound, backed it out behind the arc and nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give us the win. I think it was the first 3-pointer he ever tried at Tech."
In that 68-53 win at Texas Tech in December of 2005, Millsap scored 29 points, hitting 13-of-19 shots from the floor and added 14 rebounds and a blocked shot.
"That was one of my favorite games at Tech," Millsap said. "It was good to go in and be able to beat a good team on their home floor. I remember that first 3-pointer my sophomore season, too. That's when I realized I could take some of those if I had the chance."
Millsap was a Grambling Laboratory High School product and was recruited by programs like LSU and Oklahoma. But his uncle Johnny Simmons was an assistant coach for the Bulldogs and helped lure the big-time prospect to Tech.
"It was when (Simmons) started coaching there that I really became aware of the program and started following it," Millsap said. "I wanted to play college ball while staying close to my family, and because of the strong basketball tradition at Tech, the choice was easy."
Davis said Millsap has earned his place among Tech's all-time hoops greats.
"I think Paul's place is going to continue to be even more appreciated and regarded in high esteem as the years go by," Davis said. "Right now, it's almost as if he's one of the 'fresh faces' in the Bulldogs' legendary and long line of greats simply because he hasn't been that far removed from what he did as a collegian.
"He's in my Elite Eight so far as the top Tech players I've covered and is, for sure, the best rebounder of them all."
Richard agreed that Millsap has already earned his spot in the Tech Athletics Hall of Fame even though he's still in the middle of his professional career.
"Paul was a very team-oriented player, and that was something that was wonderful to work with," Richard said. "That's why all the other players loved playing with him. He led the NCAA in rebounding three straight years and had no ego about it. It's hard to imagine it happening again. Eventually another great rebounder will come along and take three straight titles.
"The question is can they do it in their freshman season the way Paul did. To me, that's what stands out about Paul - he came in as a freshman and just took over. Those three straight rebounding titles will hold for a while."
As will Millsap's place among the Bulldog basketball greats.