Not happy to just tread water

SWIMMING — Head Coach Jim McMillan’s decorated history has aided his tenure at Valley College. 

By Kevin Buckles Jr., Editor in Chief

REWRITING THE RECORD BOOKS - Monarchs Head Coach Jim McMillian (Center) guided his water polo team to the programs first Western State Conference Men's Water Polo Championship last semester.Jay Gilliland / Photographer

REWRITING THE RECORD BOOKS – Monarchs Head Coach Jim McMillian (Center) guided his water polo team to the programs first Western State Conference Men’s Water Polo Championship last semester.

Even before donning his signature straw hat and dark sunglasses at the pool, Jim McMillan always starts game days with a saying.

“ ‘It’s a beautiful day, and I feel great today.’ I always said it as a player and still do as a coach,” said Valley College’s men’s swimming and water polo coach. “It just kind of sets the day off as ‘It’s going to be a positive, good, mental and physical day.’ ”

His persistent optimism has paid off as the three-time Western State Conference (WSC) Coach of the Year has enjoyed an illustrious career as a swimmer, water polo player, and coach, leading teams to championships as an All-American player and building successful programs as a coach. However, water sports were not first on McMillan’s agenda.

“As a kid I wanted to play basketball for [former 10-time NCAA Championship UCLA Basketball Coach] John Wooden,” said McMillan. “He was my dream.”

When he realized he was most likely too short to pursue a collegiate basketball career, McMillan decided to apply Wooden’s coaching philosophies to the pool when he became a coach himself.

“What I learned most from [Wooden], was to be a teacher first,” said the award-winning coach. “That’s what we consider ourselves as coaches. Also, just to get everybody to work hard and come together for a common goal, which is a life lesson.”

That common goal was achieved last fall for McMillan and the Monarchs when the water polo team clinched its conference for the first time in the program’s history. A year and a half prior, McMillan coached the swimming team to five school records.

“We’ve produced 10 All-American swimmers since I’ve been here, and around 10 water polo All-Americans as well,” said McMillan. “We’re on track.”

After taking up water polo in his freshman year of high school at Foothill in Orange County, McMillan, already a basketball player and swimmer, immediately excelled, becoming a two-time All-American. He went on to play at Santa Ana Community College, where he was also an All-American, before transferring to Division I Pepperdine, where he was a two-year starter and helped lead the team to a conference championship and a third-place finish at the NCAA Tournament.

After concluding his collegiate playing career, the Orange County native relocated to Sydney, Australia where he played one season for a professional water polo team before coming home. Upon his return, he was asked to turn a club water polo team to a Division I program at Loyola Marymount University, where he also became a head coach for the first time. When he left the program after four years, he had built it into the nation’s 15th-ranked team.

He left to coach his alma mater, Pepperdine University, for the next 12 years — leading them to a national championship in 1997 over USC.

“It was time for a change though, a different challenge,” said the coach referencing departing Pepperdine en route to becoming Valley’s head coach a decade ago. “At the community college level I think you can really help boys develop into men and I really believe that’s my job as a teacher first and then a coach.”

As far as Jim McMillan, the athlete, he admits that he doesn’t get in the water as much as he should nowadays, but there is still no better feeling.

“[In the water] you escape and forget about everything else, and just cruise on a beautiful day,” said McMillan. “You just put all of the worries behind you, and it makes yourself feel great.”

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