Basketball star Mills leaves Mekeel, heads to North Carolina school

Avery Mills starred at Mekeel Christian Academy the last two seasons. (Gazette file photo)

Avery Mills starred at Mekeel Christian Academy the last two seasons. (Gazette file photo)

Categories: -The Daily Gazette, High School Sports, Sports

Avery Mills has taken a proactive approach in an effort to make her big-time basketball dreams come true.

The two-year varsity standout at Mekeel Christian Academy is now attending Winston Salem Christian School in North Carolina, and is competing on its national-level team coached by former NBA player Delaney Rudd.

Mills, a 5-foot-8 point guard who has drawn interest from more than a dozen Division I college programs, is the only freshman on the Winston Salem team that annually competes at major tournaments from coast to coast.

“It was a tough decision,” the 14-year-old said in a phone interview. “I am going to miss all of my teammates and friends, but I had to look at the bigger picture and all of the things this could do for me.”

Mills led Mekeel to the WAC Cup title and a Section II Class B runner-up showing last season when she averaged 22.1 points, 6.2 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 3.9 steals and was named to the all-state first team.

“Obviously, it’s a great loss,” Mekeel girls’ basketball coach and athletic director Kelsey Collins said. “She is phenomenal. She will do well wherever she is.”

Mills began classes approximately three weeks ago, and has played in one tournament thus far in Atlanta.

“She is playing well,” said the youngster’s dad, Mike Mills, who is running a non-profit program in North Carolina and serving as a strength and conditioning coach at Winston Salem. “The neat thing for me is watching her game go to another level playing against the best girls in the country.”

The Winston Salem national team is essentially an all-star team, and this year’s group includes players headed to West Virginia and Florida State. In all Winston Salem has three teams, with Avery Mills’ squad playing at the highest level among those teams.

“Playing against all of the seniors will make me better,” Avery Mills said. “Off the court we’re friends, but when we get on the court, no one is lacking. Everybody is going 110% and that pushes you to go.”

Rudd offered an invitation for Avery Mills to attend his school after the staff at Wake Forest brought the talented teen to his attention. Rudd played at Wake Forest, which is among several Atlantic Coast Conference schools that have expressed interest in her.

“We ultimately left it in Avery’s hands,” Mike Mills said. “We really loved [Mekeel] and loved Kelsey. We told her she can stay at the school and break all the records, or come down here and grind it out. Instead of averaging 30 points, average 15 and play with the [next] Sabrina Ionescus and the A’ja Wilsons. That’s what she wanted.”

One day, the 2020 Daily Gazette All-Area second-team pick wants to play at the sport’s top level.

“When we were discussing coming here, we asked Avery what her goals were,” said Mike Mills, whose wife, Heather, is teaching psychology at Winston Salem. “She wants to play in the WNBA.”

Mills played a significant role in Mekeel’s 39-8 record as a seventh- and eight-grader when the Lions made back-to-back trips to the Section II Class B final four.

“We’ll move forward and figure it out,” said Collins, whose team will be playing an independent schedule in the 2020-21 season. “There will be some growing pains.”

Though Mills has moved on, a 2020-21 Section II girls’ basketball season will hardly be lacking in star power as Division I commits Antonia May of Amsterdam (UMBC), Olivia Olsen of Niskayuna (Providence), Meghan Huerter of Shenendehowa (Providence), Maddisyn Mahoney of Shaker (Fairleigh Dickinson), Valencia Fontenelle-Posson of Guilderland (Siena), and Cambridge twins Lilly Phillips (UAlbany) and Sophie Phillips (Rhode Island) are slated to return.

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