How some national college basketball analysts rate Wichita State hiring coach Paul Mills

Paul Mills, former head coach of Oral Roberts, is expected to be announced as the hire for Wichita State on Wednesday.

After a successful run at Oral Roberts, Paul Mills was announced as the new head coach of the Wichita State men’s basketball team on Wednesday morning.

Mills has been the head coach at Oral Roberts for six seasons, compiling a 106-84 record. He most notably led the Golden Eagles to the Sweet 16 in 2021, just the second time in the history of the NCAA Tournament a No. 15 seed had advanced that far. Oral Roberts also had an undefeated record against Summit League competition this past season and earned another trip to March Madness.

While the conclusion of the 11-day national search brought mixed reactions from WSU fans on Tuesday evening, the general consensus among national media members is that Wichita State made a good hire in Mills.

“Mills has proven he can raise a program to a higher ceiling when he has the talent and he’s proven he can get talent,” said Matt Cox, who writes about college basketball for Three Man Weave. “Shattering program standards at a program like Oral Roberts is a great foreshadow to what he can do in Wichita with more talent.

“Let’s just say it was a great time to be looking for a new head coach and Mills is on the higher end of the tier of talent that seems capable of winning at that level. I think you’ve got to be happy about it if you’re Wichita State.”

Hiring former Baylor assistants under Scott Drew has worked out for several programs lately. Jerome Tang (Kansas State), Grant McCasland (North Texas), Mills (Oral Roberts) and Matthew Driscoll (North Florida) have all had success on their own as head coaches after leaving Drew’s staff.

Texas native Brian Burton, a former Division I assistant coach who now works as an ESPN college basketball analyst, has spent time with Drew and all of his former assistants on the recruiting trail. He doesn’t believe it’s a coincidence that Mills and his former colleagues have all been successful.

“I think it goes back to coach Drew and his ability to delegate and allow people to have ownership in the program,” Burton said. “It’s not a place you go where your job is just to recruit and then get out of the way. He empowers his assistants and lets them have a voice and a say-so. He hires guys to coach and lets them coach and really prepares them for sitting in that seat.”

A common gripe among WSU fans has been the overall winning percentage (55.8%) of Mills as a head coach at Oral Roberts. But the conversation is missing context.

When Mills took over the program, Oral Roberts was coming off back-to-back losing seasons in the Summit League and an 8-22 campaign. He has steadily built Oral Roberts into a league power, ripping off the Cinderella run in 2021 and then finishing 18-0 — the only team in America with a perfect conference record this season — in Summit League play and winning the conference tournament.

“Oral Roberts is a very challenging job and even though it’s a program that does have a history of winning, it’s not necessarily an easy place to win at,” Burton said. “They have certain rules and restrictions and that limits the type of kids you can recruit. So I think it says a lot about Paul for him to be able to win and sustain winning at a place like that.

“ORU is not a place where they are set up to be at the top of their league because of the job setup. You’ve got to be able to roll up your sleeves and really lay a foundation and that’s what Paul did. They kind of did the same thing at Baylor, so he’s used to recruiting and winning at places that don’t have that kind of tradition. And now he’s going to a place that does have tradition and is much more of a basketball job in Wichita.”

What Oral Roberts lacked in NIL money, Mills made up for in relationships. Burton said Mills is a tremendous relationship-builder, which is why he believes star scoring guard Max Abmas has stuck with Mills for four straight years at Oral Roberts.

Abmas became a star in 2021 when he led Division I in scoring at 24.5 points and sparked Oral Roberts’ Cinderella run to the Sweet 16. Despite receiving national attention and options to transfer up, Abmas has spurned the transfer portal.

“One of the most incredible recruiting jobs in the country has been coach Mills keeping Max Abmas — keeping him for not just one offseason but two offseasons in a time period where players are getting crazy amounts of NIL money,” Burton said. “That says a lot about the young man, but it also says a lot about coach Mills and his ability to connect. He really invests in his players and is very genuine.

“That’s why there are (prep) coaches who want their kids to go to ORU. They’ll have kids who could probably go higher, but people want to help Paul Mills. People want to see their kids go there because they know he is going to coach them up and there’s going to be that standard of excellence.”

Mills also comes to Wichita with a reputation as a tactician on the offensive end. His offenses at Oral Roberts have ranked top-75 nationally in KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency the last four seasons and have been up-tempo, high-scoring and featured a lot of 3-pointers.

If Mills can replicate that kind of offensive firepower in Wichita, it would be a welcome change to a program that has consistently been one of the worst shooting teams in college basketball for much of the last five seasons.

“Mills is going to bring some innovative offensive concepts and I think that kind of scoring is going to be very refreshing to the fans in Wichita,” Cox said.

“I really do believe he is going to restore that program (WSU) to their winning ways and that championship pedigree,” Burton said. “That’s ultimately what Wichita State fans want. They want to go back to NCAA tournaments and compete at a high level and make tournament runs. I think Paul is the guy to do it.”