TEMPE, Ariz. – Jamelle McMillan didn’t see what the big deal was.
To him, it was just like any kid going to work with his dad, hanging out with his co-workers, goofing around with their kids, going on the occasional business trip.
Difference was, Nate McMillan’s job was playing in the NBA and, boy, were the kids at school jealous.
“They always would say ‘you’re so lucky’ and made it such a huge, huge deal,” McMillan said. “For me, that was dad and those guys were his friends, his teammates and coaches. That was the norm for me, not that big of a deal, just everyday life. But most definitely the kids at school would try to bring cards to get signed or want to go with me on the weekends.”
McMillan isn’t alone.
Across college basketball, there’s more than two dozen players with fathers who played in the NBA, from Klay Thompson, son of Mychal, at Washington State to Michael Jordan’s kid, Marcus, at Central Florida.
A handful of schools have more than one player with NBA lineage.
At Arizona State, McMillan played alongside freshman Corey Hawkins, son of former NBA sharpshooter Hersey. Minnesota has Ralph Sampson III and Austin Hollins, son of Lionel.
Michigan coach John Beilein drew a set of NBA sons on his roster, with Jordan Dumars (Joe), Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jon Horford (Tito) all wearing the blue and maize.
Some former NBAers even have more than one kid playing college ball.
Mychal Thompson, who played 12 seasons with three NBA teams, has to not just keep track of Klay in the Great Northwest, but oldest son, Mychel, down the coast at Pepperdine. Paul Pressey has it a little easier; his sons, Phil and Matt, both play at Missouri.
The fathers have been in basketball battles at the highest level, yet when it comes to their kids, there’s a lot more hand-wringing than during their playing days.
“I always get nervous when I watch. My hands start to sweat,” said the elder Tim Hardaway, who played for seven teams in 13 NBA seasons. “I want him to do well but I also want him to learn from his mistakes. I keep my mouth closed. I just watch the game. I don’t say nothing no more. It’s fun just watching.”
Of course, just watching doesn’t always work.
They are, after all, fathers and the natural inclination is to give advice, help their kids out whenever they can. And being former professionals in the sport their sons play collegiately, they have plenty of knowledge to pass down, like a patriarch teaching the son the complexities of the family business.
“It’s an honor to have him give me advice and everything, but he’s just like every other dad,” Minnesota’s Austin Hollins said. “He gives me advice about life, he gives me advice about basketball. I think that’s a good thing to have.”
There’s also pressure that comes with it. Following the footsteps of a famous father is tough for any son, no matter the profession.
In basketball, the expectation is that the son will be just as good, with exactly the same skill set as dad.
Most of the time, it doesn’t happen. The fathers were among the best basketball players in the world during their heyday and the odds of matching that kind of success, much less doing it with the same style of play, aren’t good.
Still, there are similarities.
Jamelle McMillan is a point guard who gets by on smarts and with defense, just like his dad. David Stockton is a heady point guard at Gonzaga, similar to his Hall of Fame father, John. Klay Thompson is a prolific scorer, as Mychal was at Minnesota, and Jeremiah Rivers has been a lot like his pops, Doc, as a cerebral guard who loves to play defense at Indiana.
Though it’s not always an easy path, most of the follow-dad’s-footsteps players are able to handle the pressure, having dealt with it pretty much since the first time they picked up a basketball.
And the learning curve is shorter.
“It’s definitely an advantage that we’re fortunate enough to have,” McMillan said.