Mullins' Irish eyes smiling

Bryan Mullins is an Irish citizen. He has family in Ireland. His uncles and grandparents from his father's side were born there. He's even going to play for the Irish national basketball team later this month.

Mullins, who landed in Ireland this week to begin practicing for the European Championship qualifying games, will be in the country for the first time.

"It's weird, but I think it'll be a great experience," said Mullins, who was a star point guard at Downers Grove South and Southern Illinois University. "It's going to be different. As a kid in high school or in college, I never thought, 'I'm going to play for the Irish national team.' I'm excited about it."

The 22-year-old is even ready to taste his first Guinness.

"I've never had it," he said. "It'll be fun. I have a couple cousins outside of Dublin. I never met them before. It'll be great to meet some of them and have some people I'll be related to in Ireland."

The opportunity was born from an idea by Bryan's father, Mike Mullins, who runs the Illinois Wolves, a high school club basketball team. Through his relationships with the Wolves, Mike knew Wright State assistant Billy Donlon, a former Irish national team player. Donlon put the Mullins in touch with current Ireland coach Jay Larranaga, whose father is George Mason coach Jim Larranaga.

Larranaga initially helped Bryan with the process of obtaining his Irish citizenship. Because Bryan's paternal grandparents, John and Mary Mullins, were from Ireland, he qualified for it.

Although Larranaga has yet to see Mullins actually play, he knows he will fit in just fine.

"I'm very familiar with the Missouri Valley [Conference] through my father, and I have a lot of confidence in Billy Donlon as a basketball evaluator," Larranaga said. "You then go to the Internet and find out he's a two-time Missouri Valley defensive player of the year. I had no doubt he could play at our level and be a big part."

Bryan's Irish grandparents, both of whom are deceased, won't be able to see him play, but Mike, whose mother recently passed away, said he is sure she and her husband would have been proud of their grandson.

"My family came over in 1952," he said. "Now
for Bryan to be able to represent Ireland is a neat thing. We're proud to be Irish-Americans. We're proud to be able to bridge the gap there. For a long time as a kid, you're growing up, and your parents are trying to make it in a new country as immigrants. We're very proud to be citizens of the United States, but we're very mindful of our Irish heritage."

It's just as special for Bryan.

"Obviously, my grandmother was a big part of my life," he said. "I think for my family, especially my dad's family, they're all proud. I'm representing them, and I get to represent my last name and where they come from."

Bryan has had success at every level so far. He led Downers Grove South to a third-place finish at the Class AA state tournament in 2005 and the Salukis to the Sweet 16 in 2007. Trying to do the same with the Irish national team will be an uphill battle. Ireland hasn't been to the Olympics since 1948. In their lone Olympic appearance the Irish went 0-4, which included a 71-9 loss to Mexico.

"Basketball is not one of the most popular sports in Ireland," Larranaga said. "In popularity and media attention, it ranks 12th or 15th. That's what we fight with."

"I really don't know what to expect, to be honest," Mullins said. "In terms of basketball, I want to compete. I know last year they went 1-3 and lost a close game. Obviously, I'm going out there with confidence to help the team out and get more wins."

His trip will include playing two games in Dublin, a game in Georgia and one in Slovakia.

After his trip, he will join JL Bourg Basket, a pro team in France with which he recently signed. Mullins played for the Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics during summer league play, but wasn't offered a contract.