“He stood up and said `No, we’re going to go and get the gold medal’,” recalled coach Andrej Lemanis.
“It really gave us that sharp edge and focus to say ‘Hell yeah, we are good enough to do it’.”
His message went global overnight, Australian time, after the Boomers crushed basketball heavyweights Lithuania 90-64 in the quarter-finals.
They are now just one win away from playing for gold.
They will face either Croatia or Serbia, the lowest-ranked of the other finalists, in the semi-finals on Friday.
Even if they lose, they will still get a crack at a maiden Olympic medal.
Not since the Sydney 2000 Games have they advanced to the last four.
There, just like four years earlier in Atlanta, they finished fourth after losing to Lithuania in the play-off for bronze.
But that won’t cut it in 2016.
“We established our goal very early on,” said Mills, who finished with a game-high 24 points.
“It’s special to be involved in a unique group that is hungry and eager to achieve something that no Australian team has before.
“It means more than what you can imagine.”
Not even a physical Lithuania, ranked third in the world, could rattle a calm and measured Australia – who have dropped just one of six games, to the formidable United States.
Mills and fellow NBA championship winner Matthew Dellavdova (15 points) laid the foundation at Carioca Arena 1, outscoring the entire Lithuanian team in the first half for a 48-30 lead.
There was no let-up in the second, as Aron Baynes (16 points, five rebounds) entertained the small but vocal contingent of Australian fans with a handful of dunks.
Andrew Bogut chipped in six points, but had seven rebounds and six assists.
The Boomers led by as much as 30 points late in the game, even with Dellavedova on the bench getting treatment for a minor cork.
“It just reflects the collective will of this group to come here and do something special,” said Lemanis.
“But we won’t get over-excited by this win.
“We’re happy that we progressed but we haven’t achieved our goal and it’s now about getting our minds back to business.”
Former NBA forward Cameron Bairstow didn’t play and is unlikely to for the rest of the Games after dislocating his shoulder in their last group match against Venezuela.
Local News Matters
Media diversity is under threat in Australia – nowhere more so than in South Australia. The state needs more than one voice to guide it forward and you can help with a donation of any size to InDaily. Your contribution goes directly to helping our journalists uncover the facts. Please click below to help InDaily continue to uncover the facts.