Ex-Cat Mills reclaims championship ring missing 6 years

mstory@herald-leader.comJune 19, 2012 

After his 1998 Kentucky Wildcats NCAA championship ring had been missing for more than six years, Cameron Mills had long since given up hope of ever seeing it again.

Then, about a week ago, the former Kentucky guard received a tweet from someone he didn't know asking that Mills contact him.

"I didn't know the guy, I didn't know what it was about, so I just let it go," Mills said.

The next day, the man tweeted Mills again, this time asking more urgently that the former UK player contact him.

"I was like, 'OK, dude if it's that important, I will,'" Mills said. "So I followed the guy on Twitter and sent him a direct message."

The message that came back provided Mills an unexpected thrill: "The guy sent me a phone number, said I needed to call his wife, that she had my '98 championship ring," Mills said. "I couldn't believe it."

The ring that Mills got from UK after helping Tubby Smith and the Comeback Cats claim the 1998 NCAA title disappeared following an open house. At the time, Mills was living with his younger brother, Collier, who was moving.

"I called the police and filled out a report, everything," Cameron Mills said. "We had a list, knew who had come to the open house. The police contacted all of those people. But they didn't find the ring."

In a sense, even after his '98 championship ring went missing, Mills was fortunate. He was also a member of Kentucky's 1996 NCAA champions. He still had the ring that UK gave the players on that team.

But Mills was a seldom-used (16 minutes all season) sophomore walk-on for the '96 championship team. On the '98 champions, Mills was a valuable senior sharp-shooter who hit two clutch three-pointers for UK in the second half of its title-game victory over Utah.

"The '98 ring definitely meant more to me," Mills said. "I felt like I actually played a role in earning it. The '96 ring, I'm proud of it, but that belongs to the guys who did the playing that really earned it."

Across the years, people asked Mills, who often speaks in churches as an evangelist, why he didn't simply buy a replacement for the '98 championship ring.

"As part of my evangelism, I would get out that championship ring and show the congregation," Mills said. "I'd tell them how much it meant to be part of a team that earned the right to wear it. But then I'd always tell them that championship ring didn't mean nearly as much to me as a relationship with Jesus Christ."

Given that, "I just didn't feel right about spending $300 dollars or whatever it would be to replace the ring," he said.

Which is not to say Mills didn't want it back.

At one point, Mills saw someone advertising a 1998 UK NCAA championship ring for sale on eBay. He contacted the Lexington police who notified detectives in California, where the ring's seller was found.

"They went and checked to see if it was my ring," Mills said. "But they told me it wasn't."

So the ex-Cat had pretty much given up — until a stranger contacted him via Twitter.

"The couple that found it, they told me they found my ring about a year ago out in a field," Mills said. "They said they thought it was a class ring. They said they even ran ads in the paper trying to find the owner."

Mills is currently traveling outside Lexington on a golf trip. He sent his father, Terry Mills, to retrieve the formerly missing championship ring.

"When my Dad got home, he called me," Cameron Mills said. "He said, 'I've got your championship ring back.' I can't wait to get home and see it."

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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