Gregg Popovich's admiration for Patty Mills has been summed up by the United States and San Antonio Spurs coaching great admitting he was sad to end the Boomers star's gold medal dreams.
The US came from 15 points down to beat the Boomers 97-78 in the Olympic basketball semi-final at Tokyo on Thursday.
Four-time Olympian and Tokyo flag bearer Mills had made clear his gold medal aspirations, but will now have to settle for bronze if they can beat either Slovenia or France in Saturday's third-place playoff.
The Boomers lost the Rio 2016 bronze medal game by one point to Spain, while they were also narrowly denied a medal at the 2019 World Cup.
Mills played under Popovich for 10 years at the Spurs, winning an NBA title in 2014, but has secured a move to title contenders the Brookyln Nets.
With Mills set to turn 33 next week, Tokyo could be his last roll of the Olympic dice.
Popovich, who Mills credits for shaping him both on and off the court, didn't miss the moment.
"I'm thrilled with the victory, obviously, but when I looked him in the eyes (post-game) I felt badly," the coach said.
"They do have great camaraderie and history and culture and want it just as badly as any of us.
"That was a little bit sad, but that's what we all do, we all try to win."
Popovich has seen Mills grow to become one of Australia's most-loved sporting exports, as much for his on court prowess as his work to improve the health and opportunities for Australian indigenous communities.
"We've talked before about what a wonderful human being he is," Popovich said.
"He's a really unique player. And he has been special for the Spurs, but he's moving on to Brooklyn now and we'll miss him a great deal."
Mills was restricted to 15 points on 14 shots in the semi-final.
He will join Kevin Durant - who inspired the US on Thursday with 23 points - along with Kyrie Irving and James Harden at the Nets, where he will likely lead their second unit.
"It's a good move for him; playing for a team that's going to be a contender," Popovich said.
Australian Associated Press