Oral Roberts University head coach Paul Mills was elated after his team’s historic win Sunday to advance to the Sweet 16, but basketball wasn’t his only topic in the postgame news conference.
His Christian faith was a major theme, too.
“Well, there’s a hymn, a gospel hymn that says, ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow,’” he said. “And it's a blessing to coach those guys in that locker room. It's a blessing to win.”
Oral Roberts, a Christian university based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was a No. 15 seed heading into the NCAA Tournament but upset second-seed Ohio State and seventh-seed Florida to advance to the school’s first Sweet 16 appearance since 1974. Oral Roberts had not even won an NCAA tournament game since that ‘74 appearance. It has now won two.
Due to the pandemic, the teams are playing in a so-called bubble in Indianapolis, separated from fans and from other players. Mills and his team will stay in the city until they play again Saturday against three-seed Arkansas.
“I'm glad that I get to do laundry. I haven't had a chance to do laundry. We got here last Saturday (March 13),” he said, laughing. “I have run out of clothes.”
ORU advanced to the NCAA Tournament by winning the Summit League Tournament.
Mills, who is in his fourth season as head coach, said he wants his players to stay grounded in their faith and not to have an inflated view of themselves.
“I tell our guys this often: We need to use our God-given abilities for God-given reasons. ... In 100 years, none of us will be here,” Mills said in the news conference. “What our guys need to understand is we're really not that important, and you need to know that. As much as I admire Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., there aren't three people who gather every Sunday to celebrate his greatness, so we're not going to sit around and act like we're great. Now, 120 million people [do] gather every Sunday – 180 million on Easter – to celebrate one name, and that is the name of Jesus Christ.”
Mills then quoted Acts 4:12 to the media: “There is no other name under heaven and earth which man must be saved.”
“We are not that important. And our guys need to understand that. ... We are so thankful for the support and the people, because we want to do this the right way,” he said.
The Sweet 16 appearance, Mills said, helps put Oral Roberts University in the national spotlight. As a No. 15 seed, it is one of this year’s “Cinderella” teams.”
Prior to this season’s appearance, its previous NCAA Tournament appearance was in 2008.
“You get another week of media press [and] all that comes with it. I'm glad that the school, with its faith-based mission, is going to get attention,” he said. “And so from that perspective, it's good that sports kind of provides this platform.”
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Gregory Shamus/Staff
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.