BAL coach Liz Mills to launch global women's coaching programme

Australian basketball coach Liz Mills is a woman of many firsts -- the first to coach in the BAL and in the Arab world, as well as the first to lead a men's national team to a major tournament -- but her next goal is to ensure that 'first' does not stay 'only'.

Mills will launch the Global Women in Basketball Coaching Network in August. The focus will predominantly be on creating a support network for women coaching outside the US basketball ecosystem, though the expertise of those from within will be used too.

"The aim of the platform is to connect female coaches from around the world, so that we can engage with each other, empower each other and elevate each other to success," Mills told ESPN at the University of Cape Town, which hosted NBA Africa Day at the Rise Residential Summit.

"I was thinking: I'm always the first this, first to do that -- but how can I create a legacy? What's my impact actually going to be? It's really founded by my twin sister Vic and I. We're like: 'How do we build momentum from what I'm doing?

"I've also got an amazing group of seven other female coaches who are trailblazers in their own right and we're going to be the leadership group. We're going to basically combine the power of us. Not every coach is going to relate to me, but they might relate to someone else on the leadership group and that's how we're going to build the programme."

But will the NBA and WNBA be involved?

She replied: "We're not excluding the US at all. When I was looking at our leadership group, I very much picked women in a FIBA context, because the WNBA and NBA is an entirely different ecosystem, but we will be inviting those coaches to come and speak at our network."

A smiling Mills added: "The only thing we're excluding is men."

Explaining how the network would aim to ensure that women were not left out in the cold before they could even break into the industry, Mills said: "That's a huge problem is sport -- retaining women at all levels.

"It's about providing an environment where if they do feel like quitting, they reach out to coaches in the network [and ask]: 'Hey, I'm really struggling with this. I know that you struggled with it as well. How did you overcome that?'

"[It's about] building a connection where if we can see someone struggling who might not necessarily reach out, we engage them. That's our job -- to lift them up."

Mills was part of a panel featuring rugby icon Tendai 'Beast' Mtawarira and 2015 NBA champion Festus Ezeli. They addressed an audience of 100 Rise Global Winners -- all of them exceptionally talented teenagers who had been selected by Rise to receive lifelong support.

Nigerian winner Audrey Ekpenyong Eyo, a 17-year-old aspiring computer scientist with a special interest in the intersection between IT and fitness, told ESPN: "I've been incredibly inspired by Coach Liz's story.

"Firstly because she is the first of many to create positive gender equality in a space that has been seen to be male-dominated. I'm excited to see how that work can inspire the work of Fit as a Fiddle [Eyo's YouTube channel]."

Mills left her position as head coach of AS Salé after their quarter-final defeat to Petro de Luanda at the Basketball Africa League (BAL) 2022, but hinted that she is likely to sign for a new team in the not too distant future.

She said: "I will be talking to a couple of BAL teams in the next couple of weeks. It's really a decision about [whether or not to] take a team from BAL qualifiers all the way through to the BAL next year. I'll be talking to some teams that have already qualified.

"I think what I learned with Morocco is that I really enjoy taking an underdog team like a FAP for example.

"Nobody would have thought they would have made the semi-finals this year. I think that's more what I'm passionate about -- building a team up rather than working with a team that thinks they're already established."