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In Fairfax High's Galaxy of Basketball Stars It's Hard to Miss Chris Mills

February 12, 1987|IRENE GARCIA

When you have a legitimate superstar--as the Fairfax High basketball team does in 6-8 Sean Higgins--it usually means the rest of the players attract as much attention as a pair of designer jeans in Beverly Hills.

But even with the flashy Higgins' three-point collegiate shot range and his snake-like moves to the hoop, it is impossible to overlook 6-7 Chris Mills.

How do you ignore a 17-year-old who has a date with the NBA in five years, averages 26 points and 14 rebounds a game, is shooting a sizzling 60% from the field and turns slam-dunking into an art form?

Is it any wonder that UCLA, the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, Duke and North Carolina, and any other school that takes basketball seriously, have their eyes on him.

But for the moment, the colleges will have to wait.

Mills is only a junior at Fairfax, home of USA Today's second-ranked high school basketball team.

The soft-spoken athlete is one of many gifted performers on a 20-0 team that can pass for an all-star squad.

First and foremost, of course, is the King, Higgins, considered the best basketball prospect on the West Coast, if not in the nation. Higgins, who signed a grant in aid with UCLA in November but reportedly is tryhng to get a release, is averaging 24 points a contest, 10 rebounds and is hitting an astounding 62% from the field.

If Higgins is the King of Fairfax basketball, then Mills is at least the Prince. But what does that make another star, J.D. Green, a 6-5 1/2 senior who averages 18 points and 8 rebounds?

But despite the star quality of the team, there doesn't appear to be any ego problems or jealousy. The players are friends off the court as well as on.

"We're all really close," Mills said. "We hang around each other at lunch and no one is jealous of the other. We're a team."

And Rich Goldberg, president of the American Roundball Corp., which operates a league for prep basketball stars during the off-season, agrees. He coached Higgins and Mills on his Mid Valley team that competed last summer at the annual national Las Vegas High School Basketball Tournament.

"(Higgins and Mills) pass the ball to each other," Goldberg said. "They're team players. They put winning over everything else."

It was Higgins who introduced Mills to Goldberg's program last year.

"They're probably the two best players in the country," Goldberg said. "Sean is the best senior and Chris is the best junior."

Mills is a picture of consistency on the court.

"He just does everything well," said Fairfax Coach Harvey Kitani. "Every college coach that has seen him has said what a hell of an all-around player he is."

Goldberg agrees: "There are just no flaws in his game. He's a great defensive player, he can handle the ball well and he's extremely smart on the court. He rarely makes a mistake."

The lack of mistakes probably could be attributed to Mills' work ethic. He is a gym rat.

With the help of his brother Derek, the team's assistant coach, Mills puts in hours of overtime to perfect his game. He hangs around the gym after practice looking for a game or two, and on weekends he spends 8 to 10 hours on the court.

"He's the hardest worker I've seen," Derek said. "He dedicates himself because he doesn't want to lose. That's a lot of pressure for a 17-year-old kid."

Despite its impeccable record, Fairfax doesn't "take any of our opponents for granted," Mills said. "We play hard in every game."

Taft Coach Jim Woodard said Mills' greatest strength is that he has no weakness.

"He's just a great player," Woodard said, referring to Mills as every coach's dream.

Mills has dreams too--to be an NBA star.

The first time he handled a basketball was when he was 4 years old as a member of the Pee Wee League. His father Claud says he always played with older boys because he was big.

"He got started so early because I used to coach and I was always in the gym, so Chris had no choice," the father said. "But he learned to love it."

His teammates call Mills "Red," a name an uncle gave him when he was in the fifth grade.

"He used to come and watch me and he'd call me Dirty Red. I didn't like the Dirty part, so I just kept the Red," Mills said.

Red has high expectations. He plans to keep up his 3.0 grade-point average and obtain a college business degree so some day he can run his own business.

Meanwhile, he's focusing on changing his position from forward to guard when he gets to college.

"If Magic Johnson, my idol, can do it at 6-9, then I can do it at 6-7," he said with a smile.

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