Yes, it’s official now. Basketball is truly a family affair for the coaching Millesons.
Used to be that Nyla Milleson was kind of the lone ranger in that regard, as husband Brent and their oldest son, Barrett, were once relegated to offering up their two cents’ worth from a perch in the stands after one of Coach Nyla’s games, whether it was in her early days at Glendale High School or her successful collegiate runs first at Drury, and currently at Missouri State.
But the Pershing Middle School seventh-graders, under the direction of 22-year-old Barrett, won the Springfield junior high city tournament last month, officially stamping his arrival in the area basketball coaching ranks.
And while Brent has been at it as the boss man at Ash Grove for five years, this winter truly seems to be the one where his Lady Pirates are etching their place firmly in the discussion among top small-school hoops squads not just in the Ozarks, but statewide come March .
More proof of that came on Thursday, when fifth-seeded Ash Grove knocked off fourth-seed West Plains 43-38 in the quarterfinals of the Pink Division of the inaugural Pink & White Lady Classic at the O’Reilly Family Event Center. That pushed the Lady Pirates’ record to 11-1 this season and moved them into a date with Pink top seed Ozark at 4 p.m. Friday at The O’.
And who was one of the first across the OFEC floor to congratulate Brent on the big win? None other than Nyla, there to help celebrate a victory made more special coming off a rough past couple of weeks for the family.
Brent’s father, Chuck, passed away Dec. 15 at age 84 after a run of declining health. And Nyla’s father, Bill Wilson – Mr. SuperFan of women’s basketball at all levels in the Ozarks – is home recovering from quadruple bypass heart surgery just over a week ago.
Couple all that with the pressures and expectations that follow Nyla now in her job as ringleader of a tradition-rich Lady Bears program and Brent dealing with much the same hovering over an Ash Grove group that’s had its townspeople pointing toward this season (and next) as the time to shine. Factor all that in and, well, any chance to catch your breath and savor a victory together is indeed special.
“Winning is fun,” Nyla says with a smile. “But coaching is coaching. There’s also the other side of it, and it isn’t fun every day.
“To be honest, we probably talk less basketball now than we ever have, and I think it’s because it can be just so overwhelming. We just try to keep a balance.”
Says Brent, “I’m just very fortunate that she’s my wife and has always been very supportive, and I try to be very supportive of her. Basketball has been very good to the Millesons … we just try to find a balance with it as best we can.”
Brent is also living proof that you can find your niche’ at any point in life.
A long-time AAU girls’ basketball coach in the area and former Drury men’s golf coach, Brent was settled into a substitute teaching role in the Springfield Public Schools system when he got a phone call in September of 2007 asking if he’d be interested in helping out at Ash Grove, where a health situation in the coaching family there had left the Lady Pirates needing some basketball coaching assistance.
Brent, a sportswriter by trade in Junction City, Kan., when he met and later married the high school girls’ basketball coach (Nyla) in 1989, took Ash Grove up on the offer. Soon after, he decided it was time to go full-bore in finishing his post-graduate degree work at Missouri State to become certified to teach so he could dive into the teaching/coaching world full-time.
And the rest at Ash Grove, as they say, has been history - five consecutive winning seasons, including a 21-win campaign that saw them get knocked out of the Class 3 districts in the finals by eventual state champion Mount Vernon.
Or at least, perhaps, the Lady Pirates are in the process of making history … while also learning how to handle the hype that accompanies the hope.
“Sometimes in a smaller community, expectations can be overwhelming and a little suffocating to those high school kids,” Brent says. “I think that was the case where those expectations maybe hindered us a bit last year, but I think they’re dealing with it a little more maturely this year … and I think the experience of going through it last year has helped that.”
The Lady Pirates will likely learn a lot about themselves when they take on battle-tested Ozark on Friday. Ash Grove is now back at full strength with the return from a foot injury (after a four-game absence) by 6-foot junior post Lakin Simmerman, completing a Lady Pirates unit that is balanced, ultra-talented, feisty and ready for the challenge.
“I think one of the unique things about holiday basketball tournaments in general is when you represent a smaller school, you represent that entire community,” Brent says. “It is rare when these communities get a chance to play the schools we do in the holiday tournament, and obviously it’s a tremendous challenge. But if you’re fortunate enough, it turns into a remarkable experience.”