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Meet Lizz Mills, the world’s first female basketball coach

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Lizz Mills
Lizz Mills. Photo by Sports Africa
  • Lizz Mills knows no bounds in life
  • She became the first female men’s basketball coach in a major international competition
  • Although she is Australian, her coaching stint was in Africa

Australian Lizz Mills knows no bounds in life; she became the first female men’s basketball coach in a major international competition.

She has an interesting story of her rise to unchartered waters and she is unapologetic about it. Her life is about seeing the unseen.

The majority of coaches always consider strategies, starting lineups, and the impending game as they enter the basketball floor. However, Mills must consider everything, even her attire, as the first woman to lead a men’s national team at a significant FIBA competition.

She recounts an incident during an NBA match in Mozambique where she had to take a firm stand and let the world know who she was. On this day, she sauntered to the court with boots and was asked to take them off because they were too feminine.

Mills insisted on wearing the high-heeled boots, which have since become a signature attire. She takes great pride in being a female coach; her outfit is a statement to her team that she is there to coach them.

All that matters is coaching and nothing more.

Lizz Mills

Lizz Mills. Photo by ESPN


Lizz Mills grew up watching the Women’s National Basketball League in Australia. Unlike others, the coaches on the sidelines were the ones that motivated her rather than the players.

Carrie Graf and Jan Sterling, the head coaches of women’s teams in the 1990s and the early 2000s made her fall in love with basketball. They placed the concept in her brain that she could be a wonderful coach, although she is not a great player.

She witnessed these smart, accomplished, and powerful women winning the league. These victories told herself that she, too, could do as well.

Mills was motivated by trailblazers in the women’s game, but she would forge her own path to trailblazing. In a sport where male coaches are almost solely the norm, she is a trailblazer and a champion for women.


When Lizz Mills was working in Zambia, she received an invitation from a friend to watch a local men’s club team. Mills had spent several years coaching basketball in Australia, primarily with young teens.

When watching different matches, the fire to get into coaching burned brighter. She took a major step, which is the genesis of her coaching career.

“I go up to one of the players and ask, ‘Do you have a club president or anything here?’” CNN Sports quotes her in a past interview.

“And he introduced me to the club president. He worked for the World Bank, Maziko Phiri, and was very open-minded, so we have a chat and he said, ‘OK, you can have an hour of practice.’”

One training session followed another, and Mills took over as manager of Heroes Play United after that one hour. Before gaining her big break as the head coach of the Kenyan men’s national team, Mills spent the next decade coaching club teams in Zambia and Rwanda.

She worked as an assistant coach for Zambia and Cameroon national teams. Kenya was hoping to qualify for Africa’s top championship for the first time in 28 years when Mills took over the position of Kenya’s head coach before the AfroBasket 2021 qualifiers.

Lizz Mills

Lizz Mills. Photo by YouTube


Lizz Mills made her delivery as required in the most spectacular way. The Kenyan Morans were guaranteed a position in the competition when player Tylor Ongwae made a buzzer-beater in February 2021.

Ongwae helped Kenya defeat Angola, the most successful team in AfroBasket history. She led Kenya to its first-ever group stage exit in the competition.

With that achievement under her belt, Mills relocated from East to North Africa, taking over the Moroccan club AS Salé.

She achieved two more feats here. Mills became the first woman to coach a men’s basketball team in the Arab world, and the first woman to do so at the Olympic Games.

When she reflects on her struggles and triumphs, Mills implores it’s not been easy all through. She had her moments of putting up with bigotry and prejudice.

Mills accustomed to being in the spotlight and is aware that women coaches bear the burden of failure. Not the team like when having male coaches.

Teresa is a journalist with years of experience in creating web content. She is a wanderlust at heart, but an outgoing sports writer with focus on tennis, athletics, football, motorsports and NBA.

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