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Three generations bind this push through the playoffs

At the heart of Wesley Chapel's return trip to the state final four is a proud father and the son.

You see it when coach Kent Mills talks to his son Zach, the team's starting point guard, but you also see it when the coach walks courtside and quietly bumps a reassuring fist with a man sitting one row behind the Wildcats.

Doctors in Indiana told Bobby Mills he could not go to Florida to see his son's team, to see his grandson try to lead Wesley Chapel through the playoffs.

At 64, Bobby Mills just had a Pacemaker installed in his heart in November, but that wasn't going to keep him from watching his favorite team. Three weeks later, when a lead wire became disconnected, he postponed the corrective procedure a month so he could be in Florida for the start of basketball season.

He relented and went home in December, but flew south a month later, ignoring his doctor's orders with so much pride and confidence he booked his return airfare for Saturday, the day after the state championship game.

In the past week he has seen the Wildcats go to overtime to beat Englewood Lemon Bay and watched Saturday as Eric Sorensen hit a 25-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime in a thrilling overtime win against Jesuit that put the Wildcats in tonight's state semifinals.

"A few of the parents told me that if I can withstand all this, my heart must be in pretty good shape," Bobby Mills said Tuesday as he watched practice at the University of South Florida.

The small tubes that run from his nose to the tank he keeps between his legs give him oxygen, but Bobby needs no help to stay on top of things during a game. Clipboard in hand, he keeps track of each player's fouls, reminding his son when a player has too many or when an opponent with too many is still on the court, vulnerable for another.

He was there on the sidelines for last year's playoff run, too, but the Wildcats seniors have known Bobby since they were in sixth grade, when he'd drive a group to practice on summer afternoons, when he'd watch games and give them simple pointers, never as a coach so much as from a friend.

Sports has always meant a lot to Bobby, but family meant more. He played basketball and baseball at Eastern Kentucky and had an offer to play pro baseball with the Cincinnati Reds but turned it down, knowing the game would keep him away from his wife, Michey, and their young son. A daughter would follow, then Kent, who has both parents and both siblings watching from the stands tonight.

Wildcats basketball will lose a big part of its family when the Mills move to Indiana after the season, as the head coach takes another job with the same company for which his father worked for 30 years.

It's not just the men of the family that keep Wesley Chapel basketball alive: Kent's daughter, Bobbi (named for her grandfather) is part of the halftime dance squad, and his wife, Teresa, does just about everything.

Her father-in-law calls her "an absolute jewel, the person behind it all," and her husband agrees that tenacious defense and perimeter shooting aside, the Wildcats wouldn't be where they are without her.

"There's a rock in this family, and she does so much, just putting up with me working two jobs," he said.

There won't be a bustling concession stand to keep her from watching tonight's game in Lakeland, where one close-knit family can watch another remarkably tight group on the floor. Bobby will have his wife next to him and his children and grandchildren around him, and while he wants a Wesley Chapel win as much as anyone, he'll settle for being able to watch whatever may happen.

"The most important part is just to be there," Bobby said. "It's God's will that this has happened, and it could have gone many other ways. Luck played a part in this team getting here, but it's a great life, and I'm fortunate to be here."

Seeing his grandson on the court reminds him of his own basketball days, and seeing his son reminds him of his days as a volunteer Little League coach, but his heart leaps most at the thought that someday there will be more games for other Mills fathers and other Mills sons.

"When I played high school ball, I remember our coach telling us if we made it to states, it would be something we could tell our grandkids about," he said. "Now I tell Zach that he has something he can tell his grandkids about someday."