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MILLS, A WANDERING STAR, FINALLY FINDS HOME AT USU

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THE COACH ENTERED the interview room and smiled at the sight of Silas Mills, hemmed in on all sides by reporters. It was a scene he had seen many times before. In his dreams. "All right, Silas," said Aggie coach Larry Eustachy, feigning disgust. "Go on. Say goodbye."

And with that, Mills was gone. Never let it be said Silas Mills doesn't know how to make himself scarce. "Coach says go," said Mills, theatrically arising from his chair, "and I'm gone. Bye."If the name Silas Mills and "moving" sound like a familiar combination, they should. They've been together for more than three years. Since signing a national letter of intent to play for Utah in 1991, Mills has been as unsettled as a Bedouin camp. A one-man moving company. Have shoes, will travel. He doesn't carry a business card, he carries a change-of-address packet. Former neighbors think he's in the witness-protection program.

In the long, convoluted story of Mills, the question was never whether anybody wanted him. That was a foregone conclusion. Because Mills does things with a basketball that bring coaches to tears. He could shoot the three-pointer and steal passes and dunk in your face, all without so much as breaking a sweat.

Mills was more than just a promising player, he was a soaring talent looking for a place to land. "I always knew I'd end up playing somewhere," he said. "I just didn't know exactly where."

After signing to play with the University of Utah, Mills began a journey that only Marco Polo could appreciate. There was adventure, mystery and more changes of venue than you'd want to count. Twice Mills announced he was going to play at the University of Utah for coach Rick Majerus, only to fail. He attended classes at three junior colleges and played at two. Now he is playing for Utah State, where he unleashed his considerable talents on the BYU Cougars Thursday night, as the Aggies took an easy 83-59 win.

Before finally landing in Logan, Mills moved so many times that rumors began to crop up that he was a difficult player to deal with; that he must be either too selfish or too troubled or too egotistical to care. And for at least one year, that was probably the case. He sat out his freshman season at Utah under Proposition 42 rules, losing a year of eligibility in the process. After the season he returned to his hometown of Milwaukee, where it's safe to say he didn't earn any merit badges. "I was being very immature," he said.

Exactly why Majerus kicked Mills off the team after one year has never been fully explained. Mills vaguely refers to "doing the kind of things you do when you're 18. You know, chasing girls, other things."

What kind of things? "You know. You were doing that when you were 18, too," he said.

After being discharged by the Utes, Mills moved to Garden City junior college in Kansas. He lasted there barely long enough to get a phone hookup before he was dropped from the team after a half season. Homeless again, he returned to Utah, this time enrolling at Salt Lake Community College. He led the Bruins to a fifth-place finish in the junior college national championship.

For a brief time it appeared Mills had finally cleared all the hurdles to play for his original coach, Majerus. But suddenly the NCAA stepped in and declared Mills ineligible for all but one season at Utah. The governing body said because Mills lived in the home of former Ute basketball player Doug Terry for a time, the Utes had a recruiting advantage. He was told if he played at Utah, he would have only one year's eligibility.

Mills began looking at his options: He could spend one year at Utah or two years someplace else. Having played with several Aggies in summer pickup games, he knew USU would be a comfortable fit. The school quickly ran up a sizable phone bill to Kansas City, checking with the NCAA over Mills' eligibility. USU announced in September that Mills would be playing there, and for two seasons.

Before you could say "agricultural college," Mills had packed up his moon boots and down-filled vest and headed off to Logan. "I love this place. This is the place to be, now," he said.

In the first two games of the year, Mills scored 33 points and made 55 percent of his field goals. But that was just for warmups. On the first play of Thursday's game against BYU, he stormed inside to draw a foul. The mold was already set. He was clearly on a roll. Mills pulled down an alley-oop pass for a basket, then landed a 3-pointer to put the Aggies up by 15. He stole a pass and took in another rebound just for good measure. At halftime he had 14 points and 11 rebounds - impressive numbers at any address.

"He's got a lot of basketball ahead of him," said Eustachy. "He hasn't even scratched the surface."

Though most of his night's work was already finished by halftime, Mills began the second half by gathering in a high pass and slamming it through the hoop. The crowd went wild. Mills smiled. He was starting to like the feel of the place.

Once the final horn sounded, Mills - who finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds - threw his arms in the air and mambo danced his way toward the dressing room, hugging fans as he went. This was better than finding an apartment with free utilities.

After years of wandering, Mills was finally starting to feel comfortable somewhere besides an airport or bus station. He was even considering memorizing his address.

Barring further problems, Mills figures he has found a home. It may be cold and it may be remote, but it has Division I basketball, which he had in mind all along. "This feels good here," said Mills dreamily. "I'm here now. I'll be here another year. I don't have to worry where I might be going next year."

And he doesn't have to worry about getting his mail forwarded to a new address.