February 22, 2024 

‘She’s here, she’s ready’: What Millie Prior has brought to Davidson this season

‘The sky’s the limit’ for the junior

When 6′ 10-year-old Millie Prior scored an own goal in soccer — and celebrated it — her father decided it was time for her to switch sports. Spencer Prior, who played soccer professionally in England in the 1990s and 2000s, decided to enroll his youngest daughter in their local club basketball program in Australia. More than a decade later, she is playing her second season of collegiate basketball in the United States. 

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Millie Prior, a 6’2 junior at Davidson, said it took her some time to develop her skills in basketball, noting she was lanky and uncoordinated when she started, but she was taller than everyone else. “I think I always … liked the contact for it,” she told The Next. “But the skill part definitely took a bit longer.” 

Despite leading the Atlantic 10 in field goal percentage (57.0%), Prior wants to continue to grow her game, noting, “That’s all inside the charge circle.” Her goal is to expand first to the midrange and then out from there. Though she’s taken only one 3-point shot so far this season, her teammate Issy Morgan said that part of the extra work Prior puts in is “shooting on the gun all the time.” 

Davidson head coach Gayle Fulks believes that Prior’s motor and determination to get catches in the paint set her apart from other players she’s had in that spot. In addition to describing Prior as an aggressive scorer around the rim, Morgan also called her an “elite finder.” “She really opens up our offense a lot in what she can do for us,” Morgan told The Next. “And then just being able to play both ends of the floor, it’s just unreal for us. She can defend. She can help us run our offenses smoothly. She’s a great leader.”

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Prior spent her freshman year at Fordham, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she wasn’t able to travel from Australia to tour the school. She went off her conversations with then-head coach Stephanie Gaitley and liked the idea of living in New York City. Fulks heavily recruited Prior while she was in high school and was impressed by Prior’s competitiveness, fitness and skill set. She thought it would be a good fit for the team and the system the Wildcats run. Due to the pandemic, Prior wasn’t able to take her visit to Davidson either. 

After her freshman year, Prior decided to transfer after realizing Fordham’s style of play didn’t match her own. Though she initially looked for a program that didn’t have many Australians in her first recruitment, she realized she “definitely want[ed] to be with Aussies” and in a college town.

Morgan was a primary recruiting force after Prior entered the portal, and Prior was excited to play with Morgan again. The pair started as representative team (similar to American AAU teams) rivals before playing together in Australia, including on the New South Wales under-20 team that won gold in 2021

Morgan wouldn’t take credit for her recruiting efforts, noting that Davidson speaks for itself. “A part of it was like, ‘Oh, I’m so excited to see you, all this stuff,’ but I think when you see so many Australians coming here and really, really loving it, it kind of speaks to the fact that ‘Oh, there must be something pretty special at this place,’” she said. 

“I was just telling her my experience [and] kind of just about how Davidson really is a family, and that was so important to the both of us when we were both being recruited. … For her to come here and see it, that was kind of all she needed. To meet the people — we have such a beautiful campus, beautiful area. We have host families. So there’s just so much that makes life here so, so lovely being so far away from home.”

Morgan and Prior met at a basketball tournament when they were 15, and Prior left a memorable first impression. “I was like, Oh, this girl’s pretty awkward,” Morgan said. “But I thought [she was] funny, and we were playing against each other and she’s super uncoordinated, which made her even funnier to me. So I was like, ‘Oh, this is hilarious. I really like this guy.’” 

Prior wasn’t fazed by Morgan’s comments. “I think it’s an understatement,” she said as laughter broke out between her and Morgan. “I was so awkward. No, completely valid, completely valid.”

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Morgan was famous for cracking people’s backs at practice, and one day Prior came up to her “awkwardly” and asked whether she’d mind cracking her back. “I was like, ‘yeah, sure,’ and then from there we just became really good friends,” Morgan said. 

Over the last few years, Morgan has enjoyed seeing Prior’s confidence grow. “She’s so funny to be around,” Morgan said. “She is always lightening the mood, and I just think the way she’s grown in confidence in herself and how dominant she can be as a player as well. You can just literally see it in every year that she’s played basketball. It’s just developed more and more and more. Even after injuries she always bounces back really quickly. … She’s just got a great confident aura around her now. … It’s very like, infectious almost, I would say. She makes people around her feel more confident playing basketball as well.”

Shortly after arriving at Davidson, Prior had surgery on both labra and redshirted the 2022-23 season. One of the most difficult parts for her was the duration of the recovery process and not knowing how long it would take to be fully healed. She remembered telling her parents that Davidson was the best place for her to have gone through surgery and injury recovery because of the support she got from her teammates and coaches. 

Athletic trainer Brian Wheeler was with Prior every step of the way, along with her surgeons and doctors. Fulks noted that they had goalposts of where they wanted Prior to be by when but that they had a detailed approach to bringing her back. Throughout her recovery process she was concerned she wouldn’t be able to return the her pre-injury level of play or provide the team what she wanted to. Watching her teammates succeed and be confident encouraged her to do so as well. 

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“Seeing people just encouraging each other when something goes wrong and seeing how truly little it affects things on the grand scheme and seeing people miss a couple shots in a row and just keep shooting,” she said. “I think everyone on our team deserves to be so confident because I see how hard people on our team work, and I think that has definitely helped me take that next mental step.”

Injuries are unfortunately familiar to Fulks, who went through a season-ending one during her senior year at Fairleigh Dickinson. Watching Prior attack the yearlong rehab and getting back to basketball process taught her that no matter what the obstacle is, if you put your mind to something, you can return and be great. Fulks doesn’t think she’s seen a player go through as much as Prior has and get to the other side of the injury as well as Prior has. She was also impressed by Prior’s work ethic and professionalism during the recovery process. 

“She wasn’t always able to be in the gym doing shooting coming back from shoulder surgery and things like that, but just the way she attacked everything was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before out of an injured athlete,” Fulks told The Next. “And it’s just how Millie does everything. She does things at a really high level, and that shined through during her redshirt year with us.”

Trust in both herself in the people around her was critical during Prior’s recovery process. She had to trust that she’d retain the skills she was good at and trust that those involved in her recovery knew what they were doing and wanted the best for her. Fulks was proud of her for being able to move past focusing on her shoulders to trusting the work she put in and showing up with a clear mind, ready to play. 

Morgan described finally playing with Prior in Davidson uniforms as “one of the best things ever.” She knew how hard it is to come back from an injury, and though she loved having Prior around while she was recovering from her injury, Morgan was excited to play with Prior. During the team’s first scrimmage they kept “giving each other funny looks like, ‘Oh my god, we’re about to play with each other right now,” Morgan recalled. “It was very, very exciting. I love playing with Millie. She makes the game so much easier for everyone around her, including myself.”

Millie Prior looks to pass to teammate Issy Morgan as they run up the court.
Millie Prior (right) looks to pass to teammate Issy Morgan. The pair played both with and against each other in Australia. (Photo credit: DavidsonPhotos.com)

There were 599 days between Prior’s last game at Fordham on March 18, 2022, and Nov. 7, 2023, when she took the court for her first regular-season game as a Wildcat. Though there was some rust to shake off in the first two games, Fulks and Prior agreed that Prior exploded in the third game of the season against UNC.

“I think that’s a really special memory looking back as a team,” Prior said. “And also from an individual standpoint, I think that was the game for me where things luckily kind of clicked and I kind of after injury was able to be like O.K., I’m able to be the player for this team, and this team is capable of achieving some really big things this year.”

Despite it being the team’s second game in two days, she had 20 points, eight rebounds, four assists, two steals and one block. “I think the way that she prepares she’s been ready since the moment she got back,” Fulks said. 

Morgan was impressed by how dominant Prior was starting so early in the season. “[She’s] a smart player, so she picks up things very quickly,” she said. “Which was great for us. So, I thought she … from the get-go was ready, from what I was playing with. I was like, ‘Yeah, she’s here. She’s ready.’”

Prior believes that being able to watch from the sidelines last year helped her jump in this season with a better knowledge of the players and the system. This season, she is averaging 9.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.8 blocks per game.

Morgan knows how hard it is to come back from an injury and is proud of Prior for taking on a substantial role and responsibility on a team finding so much success this year. “I never doubted for a second that she could do it, but it’s a very hard thing to do when she’s been away from the game for this long,” Morgan said. “So that’s something I’m super proud of her for, is the way she’s just bounced back. Literally, it feels like she never left. And that has just been pretty inspiring to be around.”

Prior represented New South Wales from 2017 to 2021 and Australia at the U15, U17 and U19 levels, including the U19 FIBA World Cup. Fulks believes that Prior’s experience on big stages and being an “elite-level competitor” has helped the team this season. “She’s competed against the best in the world at her age, and she’s brought a fearlessness to our group that has been very contagious,” Fulks said. “I think we have a lot of experience that has been fearless as well like with our returners, but adding her into that mix just really set us over the top.” Davidson is 18-8 (8-7 in the Atlantic 10) this season after finishing last season 14-16 (6-8 in the A-10).

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Fulks expects to continue calling on Prior in big moments, and how Prior attacks everything she does is what stands out to her head coach. “The professionalism that she has about how she prepares her body, how she prepares for practice, how she does recovery, how she handles the weight room — I mean, all those things that go into feeling great and being able to play great on game day is something that really shines to me,” Fulks said.

Prior believes that her defense has improved the most since she was younger, noting, “I was so lanky I just couldn’t move.” Fulks believes Prior is an elite defender who can be a “game-changer.” “She’s really anchored what I feel like is a much-improved defense for us this year,” Fulks said. “So she’s been able to make things very difficult for a lot of teams on the defensive end and the rebounding side of things.” 

In addition to being sixth in the A-10 in rebounds per game, Prior is third in the A-10 in blocks per game, a part of her skill set she really enjoys. “My favorite thing is definitely just getting a really nice block. I think those are really fun,” she said. 

Playing internationally, including against Team USA and players like Caitlin Clark, helped Prior up her defensive IQ and intensity, something she works to continue to bring at Davidson. She also tries to bring rebounding and paint pressure to the team. 

Morgan described Prior as one of the “greatest defenders” she’s ever seen at the position. “She’s so athletic, she can guard one through five, which I haven’t seen us have a defensive monster, I guess like that, at Davidson,” Morgan said. “She really sets a standard very high for everyone with her intensity, how hard she works outside of practice. She’s putting in so many hours, whether it’s working on her game, but she also has to go to rehab and she also has to do all these other things. And she just does it all at such a high standard. She’s very, very disciplined. So, that really sets the standard really high for our whole team, which I think has been really, really great for us.”

In addition to Prior’s father’s career, her sister Natasha Prior also currently plays soccer professionally. Both served as Prior’s primary influences in soccer growing up. Her sister would ask her to help set up a soccer drill with her and would then make Prior run it with her. “I think the work ethic that they just put into me from a young age … I think they always try to put good messages into me for sport and just try to teach me how to be a professional,” she said. “So I’m really lucky to have grown up with those two as really good influences.”

Morgan noted that Prior, coming from a family of professional athletes, is always putting in extra work, including extra cardio. But Prior doesn’t put in the work alone — she’s often inviting her teammates to go to the gym and shoot with her, for example. Morgan also believes that working out with her teammates has helped Prior build connections and chemistry with them.

Fulks emphatically described Prior as a coach’s dream. “She’s tough. She’s competitive. She cares. She’s a great teammate. She wants to win. She will do anything to win. So, coach’s dream,” Fulks said. In terms of Prior’s future, Fulks said “the sky’s the limit” due to her motivation, work ethic, physical tools and mental capacity. “I think that there’s a lot of basketball left in her future and she’s just — I think she can do anything she puts her mind to.”

After Davidson, Prior knows she wants to keep playing basketball but isn’t sure what she’d like to pursue alongside or after it. She’s majoring in political science and has an interest in environmental law and urban planning. Fulks also noted that Prior has goals of representing Australia on the national team. “This is part of her basketball journey. Davidson’s a step and a big part of it, but it’s not the end of the road like it is for so many players,” Fulks said. “And so for her, the goals are bigger, and she really attacks every day kind of with that in mind as well.” 

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Written by Natalie Heavren

Natalie Heavren has been a contributor to The Next since February 2019 and currently writes about the Atlantic 10 conference, the WNBA and the WBL.

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