Liz Mills (KEN)
Jeff Taylor's Eurovision
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Kenya coach Liz Mills opens the door wide for women

VALENCIA (Jeff Taylor's Eurovision) - Imagine how it feels to be Liz Mills right now, the first woman to coach a men's national team, Kenya, to the FIBA AfroBasket.

It happened just several days ago when the Australian took the helm of the Kenyans for the third window of the Continental Qualifiers and led the Morans to a 74-73 upset of Angola.

Angola are the 11-times winners of the FIBA AfroBasket and were No. 32 in the FIBA World Ranking Presented by Nike - 83 spots above Kenya at No. 115 - when the game was played.

The result has caused a stir back home with even the Kenyan government hailing the success.

Kenya's performance under Mills has come at a time when, among FIBA's priorities for 2019-2023, is to have more 'women in basketball' 
and to 'develop and leverage elite competitors and coaches.'

There are undoubtedly more Liz Mills out there, women that would be good fits and great leaders for men's national teams. If federations haven't considered this, they should.

Kenya did win one of their three games in the November window of the AfroBasket 2021 Qualifiers, beating Mozambique, but the Morans coach, Cliff Owuor, wasn't available for the February window in Yaounde, Cameroon.

Kenya had actually expressed an interest in Mills being involved with the team before the November window.  She is well known on the continent.

Mills has experience of working in African basketball dating back more than a decade. She has worked as a consultant, but has also coached various teams, including the Patriots in the Rwanda top flight, while also serving as an assistant coach for the Zambia and Cameroon national teams.

In January, she took the helm of Kenya and after being appointed, she told The Big Tip Off, "they can play so much better than what they did in November." 

Mills prepared Kenya, who hadn't made it to the FIBA AfroBasket for 28 years, for games against Senegal, Angola and Mozambique. 

Mills showed plenty of poise in the most difficult moments against Angola

The signs were there that Mills was going to make a difference when Kenya hit the court on February 19 for the game against Senegal, who had won the first meeting, 92-54.

Kenya were organized and intense. They led 31-27 at half-time, only for Senegal to raise their own intensity in the second half before pulling away for a 69-51 victory. Mills said after that her team would learn from the experience and get better, and they did.

The following day, Angola, a team Kenya had never beaten, had a double-digit lead early in the second half yet the Morans stormed back to take the lead, only for Angola's Alexandre Jungo to bury a go-ahead three-ball to make it 73-72 with 23 seconds left.

Mills put the ball in Tylor Ongwae's hands, had her other players spread out on the court, and let the captain go to work. Ongwae dribbled in, stopped with one foot on the three-point arc and drilled a jumper for a 74-73 Kenya win.

Mozambique beat Kenya the following day, 71-44, but that took none of the shine off the Morans' performance in Cameroon for a candid Mills.

"I haven't seen that kind of basketball in Africa for 10 years, where it's all physical and not a lot of skill involved," she said. "As you can see, we can compete against the better teams who play a more international style of basketball, higher skill set."

We should all savor this moment, first of all for Kenya, who missed out on the FIBA AfroBasket for nearly three decades but now are going back.

They received a heroes' welcome upon their return to Nairobi.

But on a grander scale, let's consider the ramifications of Kenya's triumph. Mills' performance at the helm shows she's a great coach.

It also confirmed what we already knew, that when it comes to X's and O's, motivation, inspiration and preparation, women can also coach in the men's game.

Jeff Taylor

FIBA's columnists write on a wide range of topics relating to basketball that are of interest to them. The opinions they express are their own and in no way reflect those of FIBA.

FIBA takes no responsibility and gives no guarantees, warranties or representations, implied or otherwise, for the content or accuracy of the content and opinion expressed in the above article.

Jeff Taylor

Jeff Taylor

Jeff Taylor, a North Carolina native and UNC Chapel Hill graduate, has been a journalist since 1990. He started covering international basketball after moving to Europe in 1996. Jeff provides insight and opinion every week about players and teams on the old continent that are causing a buzz.