Shuffling around the court of Bologna’s Palazzo dello Sport, he looks like any other member of the Italian city’s Sinudyne basketball team. But suddenly he emerges from a tangle of players with the ball, sprints down court and, with a deft flick of the wrist, deposits it in the basket. As the points flash on the electronic scoreboard, the fans scream: “Mack-mee-lone, Mack-mee-lone!”
Next morning, 6’10½” former Ail-American Tom McMillen, 22, is back on the plane to Oxford, where he is a Rhodes scholar studying politics, economics and philosophy. The sometimes twice-weekly commute, which keeps McMillen airborne 14 hours, is necessary if McMillen wants to maintain his scholarship and play basketball.
A University of Maryland star and first-round draft choice in both the U.S. basketball leagues last year, he turned down lucrative offers from the Virginia Squires and the Buffalo Braves. Now Oxford has ruled that instead of finishing his course work next year, McMillen will be allowed to spread it over three summer terms. That means he will be able to play pro ball in the U.S. Fair enough, since Sir Cecil Rhodes, founder of the scholarships which bear his name, only attended Oxford in the summer.
But for McMillen, an idol in Italy, where basketball has become a popular sport in the last decade, there is much to ponder. He is paid $100,000 a year by Sinudyne and, with his 32 points a game, he is worth it. For the first time in over 10 years, the team has made the league playoffs.
An American club, however, would almost certainly up the ante. “Money is an important consideration,” concedes McMillen. “But I don’t want to be victimized by salary sensationalism, looking like dollar signs are wrapped all around me. I am not a piece of meat.”