Georgia native Lennie McMillian starred on Leeside basketball courts with Demons, Neptune and North Mon

Georgia native Lennie McMillian starred on Leeside basketball courts with Demons, Neptune and North Mon
Brilliant American basketballer Lennie McMillan in action for North Mon against Tralee in 1995.

AMERICAN basketball player Lennie McMillian came to Ireland over 30 years ago to begin his professional basketball career with the Blue Demons on the northside of Cork.

That was the start of an amazing journey in his life and in his sporting career where he excelled for a number of teams in this country across three decades.

Lennie was one of the best American players to ever grace these shores in an era when the standard of US imports was extremely high. He could do everything: shoot, rebound, dribble. Most importantly, he was also a top-class defender.

Lennie McMillian about to shoot for Burgerland against Sporting Belfast at Parochial Hall.
Lennie McMillian about to shoot for Burgerland against Sporting Belfast at Parochial Hall.

McMillian had a standout college career with Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania where he helped them to win the 1981 Conference Championship, nabbing the MVP award on the way. He narrowly missed out on the 1981 NBA draft and opted to play overseas.

At the time there was far less competition for American players for other leagues around the world, while the money flowing into basketball in Ireland was appealing.

The funny story though, was when Lennie arrived in Ireland he thought he was in Poland, and asked how far was he from the Russian border, only to be told by a Blue Demons official 'this is Ireland, my friend!'.

All that mattered to McMillan was that he was getting paid to pursue his hoop dreams. He grew up in McRae, Georgia, and always loved the game.

“I spent two years in Dekalb County College Atlanta Georgia, and then two years at Pittsburgh Pennsylvania where I won the MVP for the Easter Eight Tournament which advanced the team to the NCAA Play-offs March Madness."

He then came to Ireland for the 1981-82 season and is still here now, living in Dublin with his wife Tina, who is from Cork.

“We have five kids, Lennie junior, Jordan, Aysha, Dahna and Bryana, and three grandchildren. All my kids have played sports throughout their life including basketball.

McMillian with his grandchildren Sam and Annaliese.
McMillian with his grandchildren Sam and Annaliese.

“My girls were keen GAA players, while soccer became a big part of my son's lives.

“Lennie junior is attending Boston College on a soccer scholarship. Jordan is now coaching soccer in Dallas.”

In McMillian’s first year he played with Demons. However, he moved to their arch-rivals Neptune the following year and won the Men’s Super National League and his first Roy Curtis International Tournament.

The following year Lennie joined the North Mon where he partnered follow American Bob Stephens for a three year period.

They were a perfect fit for the Mon as the suited their system to a tee. Former teammate Francis O’Sullivan recalls how good Lennie was.

“Lennie was a superb player for us at the time as the team were just promoted to the SuperLeague. He was one of the most underrated players to play in this country, however, he was a safe player who rarely turned the ball over, could score when the team needed a basket, and his quickness around the court made him a nightmare for the opposition.

“To be able to play for 30 years in the league tells its own story of his character and professionalism. Lennie was the great survivor in a country were as a professional if you had two bad games in a row you would be sent home!

“Lennie was a journeyman as that’s what they would call him Stateside. In Cork they would say he had more clubs than Jack Nicklaus,” jokes O'Sullivan.

The bottom line was he was in demand because he was so reliable on the court.

McMillan played in Cork for six years before he moved to Dublin to continue his playing career.

“I have played for 11 teams: Blue Demons, Burgerland (Neptune), Team Harp Larger (North Mon), St Vincent’s Cork, St Declan’s, UCD Marian, Tolka Rovers, Denny Notre Dame, Longford Falcons, Sligo, Galway Democrats and Dungannon."

Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

He won three Roy Curtis International Tournaments with Neptune, Blue Demons and Denny Notre Dame, four National Cups and the SuperLeague title with Burgerland.

The game was booming in Ireland in the '80s with the brilliance and athleticism of the American imports raising the standards to a level they haven't reached since. 

“I played basketball in Ireland for 30 years, and some of my most difficult opponents were Ray Smith (Bugerland), Kelvin Troy (St Vincent’s), Liam McHale and Deora Marsh (Ballina).

“I also had the pleasure of playing with some great players, both American and Irish of the caliber of Bob Stephens (Team Harp Lager), Soup Campbell (Sporting Belfast), Ger Heaphy (North Mon), Tom O’Sullivan (Burgerland) and Mono McCarthy (Blue Demons).

McMillan, then with Notre Dame, winning the ball from Neptune's Terry Strickland and Mario Raul Mullen. Picture: Denis Minihane.
McMillan, then with Notre Dame, winning the ball from Neptune's Terry Strickland and Mario Raul Mullen. Picture: Denis Minihane.

“I had a great spell with Denny Notre Dame were we won three Sprite Cups in a row along with my third Roy Curtis tournament in 1997.

“I had won my second Roy Curtis tournament with Blue Demons a few years earlier.”

He went back to play for the North Mon in 1995 when they were runners-up in the Division 1 League. More impressively, they made history when they became the only Division 1 group to lift the Premier National Cup.

Darren Geaney, one of Lennie’s teammates that season spoke very highly of him.

“Lennie is a great character and was a top-class defender. I was surprised how good of a rebounder he was as I remember him playing with the Mon when I was growing up, however, it was Bob that got all the praise.

“He was also a very good scorer, and even a better playmaker, he always knew when to make that right pass.

“It was an honour to play with a player like Lennie, as he was one of my heroes as a kid growing up."

His plan for the future is to continue coaching basketball and teaching kids the joy and love of sports especially basketball.

Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

“My fondest memories of playing in Cork are many but mostly the competitiveness on court and the laughter, fun, and friendship off court.

“The complete buzz with amazing fans before during and after all matches in Cork and especially the friendship of the Cork people will always remain with me."

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