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Patriots cornerback Jalen Mills on building off last season and middle school buddy Marcus Smart

Jalen Mills finished last season, his first with the Patriots, with 47 tackles and seven passes defensed.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

The roots run deep between Jalen Mills and Marcus Smart, and their matching green locks are just the latest connection.

The pair first got acquainted in middle school, and it was apparent to Mills back then that Smart was destined for big things.

“You know what’s crazy? I actually went to school with Marcus Smart in Dallas in fifth and sixth grade,” Mills said Thursday when asked about their matching coifs. “Everybody knew back then that he was going to be a pro in basketball because he was dunking back then. But he ended up transferring, but we’re actually from the same part of town back home, but it’s awesome, [his hair] is awesome.”


While the Patriots are just gearing up for their season, the Celtics are in the middle of a tough playoff fight with the Bucks, and Mills said he’s been “dialed in” to the NBA postseason and has adopted the Celtics.

“Right now, I’ve got to go with the hometown [Celtics],” the cornerback said. “They’re playing good team ball. Everybody is doing their job.”

Mills had a bitter ending to what was a pretty sweet first season in New England when he had to miss the playoff game in Buffalo because of a bout with COVID-19. While missing that tilt stung, Mills, who started 16 games at right corner, was more focused on building off last season’s success.

“I think I really just got comfortable within the scheme. Two totally different schemes from the scheme I was playing in before and then last year just getting comfortable within the scheme, getting comfortable with certain guys,” said Mills, who was taking a break from his workouts. “Certain guys do different things, certain guys do different checks … knowing presnap if I have [Adrian Phillips] next to me [and knowing] he’s going to do something different than [Kyle] Dugger or [Devin] McCourty. [Dont’a] Hightower next to me, was going to make a different check than Kyle Van Noy. I think that was the biggest thing with me, just getting comfortable within the scheme.”


Jalen Mills sounds fired up about the idea of spending another season in Foxborough.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

Mills, who finished with 47 tackles and seven passes defensed last season, is expecting serious competition this summer as the club looks to replace J.C. Jackson, who had a team-high eight interceptions last year.

The Patriots brought in veterans Malcolm Butler and Terrance Mitchell and drafted Marcus Jones and Jack Jones. In addition, Jonathan Jones, Myles Bryant, Shaun Wade, and Joejuan Williams are on the roster.

“Competition brings the best out of everybody,” Mills said. “Bill [Belichick] is going to demand that the competition level be high. I think that’s going to make everybody better in that room.”

Jim McBride can be reached at james.mcbride@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.