Dec. 20, 1997
McMillen's Dream Comes True
The desire and competitiveness has always been there for Sheila McMillen
As a youngster playing basketball in Indiana, McMillen dreamed of attending Notre Dame. She and her parents would regularly attend Irish women's basketball games, and as a seventh grader, she began coming to Muffet McGraw's basketball camp in the summer.
Each summer from the time she was in seventh grade, McMillen would come to McGraw's camp looking to hone her skills and to catch the attention of the Notre Dame mentor. When McGraw finally was permitted to contact McMillen about playing for the Irish, it was like a dream come true for she and her parents.
"I grew up a Notre Dame fan," the junior guard says. "Being so close to South Bend, my family got the South Bend Tribune at our house and we always watched Irish football and basketball games on television. I always knew that I wanted to come to Notre Dame."
"When Coach McGraw expressed her interest in recruiting me to come play at Notre Dame, it gave me the incentive to work harder. I knew I had the potential, but that talk helped me to work harder and become the best I could be."
McMillen began playing basketball in the second grade and used every opportunity she could to practice and play. She played during halftime of her brother's basketball games in middle school and high school and played against her brother's friends and her male friends.
"There weren't many girls my age who were as competitive as I was," McMillen recalls. "I took advantage of any opportunity I could to play Ñ against my brother and his friends and my guy friends. It didn't matter."
The all-time leading scorer (male or female) at Rochester High School, McMillen finished her four-year career with 1,696 points, and as a senior, led her team to its first sectional title in more than a decade with a 41-point performance in the championship game. As a senior, she was second in the state of Indiana in scoring as she averaged 28.2 points per game.
McMillen accumulated numerous accolades and awards during her career. She was named to the AAU All-America team after her Indiana Force Ten squad captured the 18-and-under AAU national championship the summer before she enrolled at Notre Dame.
Her success on the basketball court caught the interest of many schools. During the recruitment process, the two-time South Bend Tribune Player of the Year, fielded scholarship offers from Penn State, Vanderbilt, Northwestern and Duke. But, every visit she took, McMillen found herself comparing those schools to Notre Dame. Although she tried to keep an open mind, deep down in her heart, she knew would end up playing for the Irish.
"My parents and I came to a lot of Notre Dame women's basketball games when I was in junior high and high school," McMillen says. "I grew up watching Coquese Washington, Margaret Nowlin and Karen Robinson. They were my idols, my role models."
McMillen was lured to Notre Dame not only because it was close to home, but also because she wanted to be part of a program that was still growing and had not yet reached the women's basketball upper echelon.
And that is why last year's Final Four appearance was and always will be so special for McMillen.
"When I came to Notre Dame, I was determined to be a part of and contribute to something that the program had never accomplished," McMillen says. "Going to the Final Four last year was so special. I'm not sure I'll totally appreciate it and realize what we accomplished until after my career is over."
Like any competitive athlete, McMillen somewhat struggled as a freshman with her confidence and her role on the team. It was difficult at first coming off the bench and not starting, and it took some adjustment. But having the opportunity to watch and learn from Irish standouts Beth Morgan and Katryna Gaither, has benefited McMillen, especially this season considering the youth of Notre Dame's 1997-98 squad.
"It took me a while to accept my role," McMillen says, "but in looking back, I think it was good for me. I certainly doubted myself at times, but a lot of players struggle with their confidence at one time or another during their careers. But I think I'm better for it and for having gone through it."
McMillen, who serves as a co-captain this season, along with teammate Mollie Peirick, leads the team in scoring this season with a 14.9 ppg. average and scored a career-high 29 points in the team's 93-91 overtime victory at UCLA early in the campaign. But it's been her leadership on the court and in practices that has been important this season.
"This season has been an adjustment," McMillen says. "With four senior starters on the team last year, we kind of took that experience for granted. We're very young this year and a lot of the players are still learning. It's been an adjustment for me, but I enjoy the leadership role I have on this team. It's fun."