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Donovan Mitchell is an NBA doubtful star

By Staff Writer

If you don’t believe in Donovan Mitchell and Cleveland’s success after he was traded from Utah, that’s fine. What’s more, you’re in good company. After all, if Spidey does succeed, you can always say, “Well, his mother didn’t believe in Don, so there’s no shame in me being wrong.”

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Mitchell’s mother didn’t believe in her son, but she did her best to be wrong.

“I never believed Donovan would play at the highest level. I mean, what were the chances? I know a mother shouldn’t say that, but I was only thinking about his education. When he played in the amateur league, I said: “Well, honey, I’ll back you all the way, except you need to focus on your studies.” I thought a basketball scholarship certainly wouldn’t hurt. Did I ever think he’d end up in the NBA? No, no, and no,” Nicole Mitchell was frank.

It’s an understandable position to take, especially considering Mitchell’s mother was a teacher and had seen countless examples of young kids betting on sports and then not getting anywhere. But in addition to the genuine doubts she shared with her son, Nicole’s disbelief was expressed in the vast numbers on the speedometer of the old Toyota Camry, where she drove her son to countless amateur tournaments. And those mileage numbers were far more eloquent than her words. So Mitchell is eternally grateful to his mother, who – in his own words – didn’t care about basketball.

The combination of Nicole’s cautious optimism and her willingness to sacrifice much for her son’s passion made Donovan who he is. With all his virtues and flaws.

Donovan was lazy, overcame adversity, and still thought about quitting basketball.

When Mitchell moved on to ninth grade, he found himself away from his mother for the first time and couldn’t handle the freedom.

“I felt like I couldn’t change anything in the time I had left. I was careless and almost blew my whole future. I wasn’t taking training seriously, lying to nurses that I had a headache to get a release from classes and training. I spent much time in my dorm, slept before matches, and was constantly late everywhere. Finally, my mom sensed that I was changing, and not for the better. One day she suddenly showed up and quietly said: “I know what’s going on, honey. You don’t look like yourself. You’re not the humble kid you used to be. Let me tell you something, honey. Remember, God will let you know that you have to be yourself, be the obedient boy you used to be.” And, of course, she was right,” Mitchell recalled.

It took Mitchell a long time to choose a priority sport for himself. Because his father had tied his life to baseball, Don was surrounded from an early age by baseball bats, batting orders, tin cans with scatterings of laced balls, and all the other romances of most American sports. He adored baseball, and pictures of David Wright and Scott Kazmir hung on the wall in his room, along with a poster of Michael Jordan.

Donovan had tried too long and too vaguely to define life’s priorities, so life had described them for him. Then, during one baseball game, Donovan collided with another player and broke his wrist. He spent a year out of sports because of it. That’s the year college and university scouts begin to keep an incredibly close eye on talented prospects.

In his first year for Louisville, Mitchell averaged seven points. After that, the NBA didn’t even loom in the distance. So all he had to do leading up to his second season was squeeze his doubts and sweat in the weight room during late-night trips to the gym. It was then that he first encountered what he had longed for.

If you’re not going to the NBA, the NBA is coming to you.

You can talk about what happened as just another divine providence or poke around for hidden meanings hinting that Mitchell often needed someone else’s support and help. But it’s pretty standard for NBA stars to come to significant universities where they once attended.

Rajon Rondo went to Kentucky but was born in Louisville, so he often stopped by the university in the offseason to play ball with friends. And to avoid drawing unwanted attention to himself, he organized games at night. It was at one of these that Mitchell stumbled in. The next day, he got a hold of Larry O’Bannon, a former Cardinals player who worked out at the gym. Donovan promised he’d go to the middle of nowhere and get him. I don’t know what if he’d put him on the Rondo night group chat room. O’Bannon didn’t know what he was talking about, but, impressed by the guy’s persistence, he agreed.

After such fruitful summer training, Donovan was right to expect a fiery start from himself, but it didn’t happen. Instead, Mitchell performed unevenly, hesitated a lot, and dropped out of the starting five near the end of December. In this state of disharmony, he approached the game against Indiana on Dec. 31.

  • Mitchell came off the bench and scored 25 points;
  • Three rebounds;
  • and three assists in a 77-62 win over Indiana.

He claimed that night was the moment after which he never looked back. Mitchell finished the season averaging 15.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 2.1 steals. Six months later, he was already playing in pre-draft camps against Paul George and Chris Paul.

Mitchell showed star level in his first year but still doubted himself.

“The first year, everything that was going on reeked of surrealism. Every thought of finally being in the NBA was accompanied by the realization that I wasn’t supposed to be here. That’s probably why I’m so appreciative that I made it in the end,” Mitchell reasoned.

We’ll leave it to the professionals to analyze Mitchell’s psychosomatics, but everything about his debut season was surprising. A player selected outside the top ten, he was immediately firmly established on the Jazzmen’s main roster and became Ben Simmons’ main rival for the rookie MVP title. Mitchell started the season in October as usual, and in December, he set a club record for Utah’s Rookie of the Year in a single game. Mitchell scored 41 points for the Pelicans, surpassing the previous record of Darrell Griffith, who scored 38 points in 1981. Mitchell wore his No. 35 jersey three months later to win the slamdunk contest at the All-Star Game.

He was named to the All-Star First Team in the regular season, but it did not impact his playoff run. Even a foot injury in the first game did not put him off. Mitchell was the Jazz’s highest-scoring player (28.5 points per game) in the series against the Thunder (4-2), which saw Utah advance to the second round. He failed to repeat that success against Houston, but hardly anyone would argue that Mitchell performed much better in his first year than he was expected to.


Staff Writer