In November, Kane Milling’s Espoirs Limoges faced Espoirs Monaco, a team led by Craig Neal, the former American college coach who moved to Europe months earlier to serve as Monaco’s director of sport.
Neal had scouted Espoirs Limoges and was impressed with the then-17-year-old’s all-around game. And after Milling led his team to a 58-53 victory over Monaco, Neal pulled the young lefty guard aside.
“We talked a little bit before the game,” Milling said Tuesday via phone from France. “He said he knew who I was a little bit, and that’s why I got to meet him. After the game, we won and I played pretty good. He said if I needed any help going to college he could help me and contact a lot of people for me.”
The two kept in touch, and several months later Neal had an opportunity to move back to America to join Steve Alford’s staff at Nevada. After accepting the job, Neal knew he wanted to bring Milling over, too. And on Monday, Milling signed a letter of intent with Nevada. In the process, he became the Wolf Pack’s first commitment in the Alford era and the first international player to sign with Nevada since Greece’s Stelios Papafloratos in 2013. It was a dream fulfilled for Milling.
“My dad used to play at Oregon and he said it was the best years of his life,” Milling said. “I’ve always watched March Madness and it’s always been a dream of mine to play in the States, especially college ball. It was my sophomore year I really started getting serious about it trying to get to his point.”
The 6-foot-4 Milling is a combo guard who has played against college-aged kids his last two years in the 21-and-under LNB Espoirs. In two games against Monaco this season, Milling has averaged 19 points, 6.5 rebounds, three assists and one steal. He’s made 14-of-33 shots, including 8-of-16 3-pointers. So, it’s easy to see why Neal likes Milling, who also was recruited by Washington State, Toledo, Loyola Marymount, North Kentucky, San Diego and Elon, among others.
Milling said he first took notice of Nevada during the team's Sweet 16 run in 2018 and enjoyed watching the Martin twins play. He also hit it off with Alford during their recent conversations.
“I talked to Coach Alford twice on the phone and he sounds like a really nice coach and I can’t wait to play for him,” Milling said.
Milling’s father, Kyle, played in college for UCSB and Oregon, where he averaged 12.1 points and 7.9 rebounds per game from 1995-97. The elder Milling then played pro ball overseas with Kane being born in France. Kane lived in the San Diego area during his fifth- and sixth-grade years but otherwise was born and raised in France. Milling has played for American AAU teams the last two summers, which he said was beneficial for his game.
“The difference over there playing AAU is over there you have to be 100 percent all the time,” said Milling, who played for SoCal-based team Gamepoint. “You have to kill the guy in front of you. It’s not soft. You also have to shoot. You can’t be scared at all. There’s trash-talking and physical play. It really shocked me how intense the game was and how fast it was. That was the main difference.”
Said Kyle Milling: “It was a culture shock playing AAU ball, but it was good for him. The style of play is completely different. When he first played in AAU, he’d bring the ball up, call a play and set everything up. What he learned from AAU stuff was to be more aggressive and to attack as a first intention. In AAU, it’s basically one pass and attack and it’s a lot more aggressive. That’s one reason why I think going to the States will help him. There’s a little more aggressiveness and a little more of a one-on-one game.”
Milling is in the middle of his second season at Espoirs Limoges, where he’s averaging 14.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.5 steals while shooting 38 percent from the field, including 32.9 percent from three. Instead of playing for a high school-aged team, Milling has played for a college-aged squad the last two seasons. He had the option to turn pro in France next year but wanted to go to college instead.
“He practices with a pro team every day and they offered him a full contract but he wanted to stay in school and play basketball in the States,” said Kyle Milling, who has coached pro ball in France since 2015. "If he would have stayed in France and gone pro, he would have stopped school as he tried to become a pro player. We wanted him to get more of an education past basketball.”
Given he’s a coach’s son, Milling has a good basketball acumen and can play either guard position. He turned 18 in March and has some physical maturation to undergo before he’s truly college ready.
“My biggest strengths are my basketball IQ and my reads off pick-and-rolls, my shooting, being able to create for others and being able to create for myself,” Milling said. “The thing I need to work on more is my strength. I need to get stronger. I need to be more physical and my man-to-man defense, too.”
Milling’s father was a 6-foot-9 post player, so there’s a chance Kane continues to grow, too.
“He’s not going to be 6-9, but if he’s 6-3, 6-4 now he could grow a little bit more,” Kyle Milling said. “He’s not totally mature. When he’s mature, he’ll grow into it. He has to work a little bit with his right hand. Here, they’re trying to turn him a little bit more into a point guard. He’s more of a combo guard. He can play both positions, which is kind of more modern basketball. His strength is what he needs to improve the most. But his strength as a player is his basketball IQ and he’s a good passer. He makes very good reads, which you can’t always teach. It’s usually natural. He can shoot it, can score it. He just needs to get a little bit stronger, a little more aggressive and get a little bit more of an American mentality.”
The Millings spent a lot of summers in San Diego during Kane’s childhood, so he’s had a taste of both America and Europe. Beyond the differences on the basketball court, the cultures are different, too.
“In America, the lifestyle is really fast,” Kane Milling said. “Everything you have to do really fast. In France, everything is slow. It takes like four hours to eat, just talking and taking our time. In America, it’s really fast. Everything you do, you do it good and quick. In France, it’s more slow and take your time. Even in basketball. In our practices, we do two- or three-hour practices at night and it’s a lot of motion and drills and slow stuff, getting the plays. In America, it’s more five-in-five, quick play.”
Before Kane committed to Nevada, the Millings watched some of Alford’s teams at New Mexico and UCLA and liked his system, which is more team oriented than one-on-one ball. They both believe Kane could earn minutes during his freshman season at Nevada, although the Wolf Pack has a good group of backcourt players even if three-year starting point guard Lindsey Drew, who is in the transfer portal, opts to leave town.
Milling said it will be hard leaving France, but he’s also looking forward to the next chapter in his life in America. Milling will join Nevada for summer school sessions in July.
“I’m really excited,” he said. “I can’t wait to come to school and get ready and get started on a new life basically. Even though it will be sad to leave my family and my friends in France, it’s just a really good opportunity for me and for my future. I can’t wait to be a part of the Pack.”
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.