MORAGA -- He's been called the future of Australian basketball, blessed with a face so familiar that international airports aren't always the best place for anonymity.

Yet as Patrick Mills continues to acclimate himself to life at St. Mary's College, a world away from his home in Canberra, he considers himself just another 19-year-old freshman trying to find his way.

"The first few weeks, I've had a ball of a time," Mills said while sitting in the bleachers inside McKeon Pavilion. "It's surprising how well I've fit in. Moving to the other side of the world, I didn't know what to expect. This is a new team, and I'm a stranger. Nobody knows you."

Odds are that's merely a temporary condition.

After all, Mills' arrival to the East Bay comes with a buildup that seems to suggest he might not just represent the future of Australian basketball, but Gaels' hoops, as well. The 6-foot point guard has Olympic aspirations that could be fulfilled as soon as the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing and NBA potential that may be realized not long after that.

"This guy's got a buzz. He's going to help us," St. Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "He's a unique player over there. ... Internationally, if you ask any player or coach who Pat Mills is, they know."

All of which begs one question: Why St. Mary's?

Mills was recruited by Wake Forest, Utah, Alabama and Nebraska but said his close relationship with Bennett, who has a knack for luring Aussies to Moraga, played a key role in his decision to come to the Bay Area. Plus, he genuinely believes St. Mary's is where he can achieve his dreams.

"The ultimate goal is the Olympics and the NBA," Mills said. "This route will get me there."

Mills knows his presence is generating chatter, but he isn't buying into the hype. Mills -- you can call him "Patty" -- has bigger things to worry about, namely jelling with his fellow Gaels and taming a class schedule designed to satisfy his verve for the Italian language, communications and, get this, sports meditation.

"They grade you on how well you meditate," Mills said with a laugh.

Before his arrival at St. Mary's, Mills led the under-19 Australian national team to a fifth-place finish at the FIBA World Championships in Serbia. Then came the call that changed everything.

Mills was asked to join coach Brian Goorjian and the Boomers, Australia's premier national team, and help them qualify for the Beijing Olympics. It was a chance of a lifetime, and Mills willingly obliged. He came off the bench and scored 17 points in a 93-67 victory over New Zealand, a performance Mills calls the "biggest highlight of my career."

The victory secured the Boomers' place in China.

"What he did on the court, it was very, very impressive," two-time Olympian Sam Mackinnon told the Canberra Times. "You just haven't seen anything like that in Australian basketball before."

Contact Jennifer Starks at jstarks@bayareanewsgroup.com.