Mitchell’s NBA dream still alive

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - September 12, 2013 - 12:00am

Talk ‘N’ Text import Tony Mitchell has played for the Sacramento Kings, Boston Celtics and New York Knicks in the NBA summer leagues but there seems to be something that’s blocking his way to make the grade. Whatever it is, Mitchell remains upbeat that someday, he’ll play in the majors.

Mitchell, 24, was never drafted. There’s some confusion in the popular basketball reference website Eurobasket about Mitchell because a namesake was picked on the second round by the Detroit Pistons last June and the credit is carried in the Texter’s resume. Mitchell was undrafted out of the University of Alabama two years ago. He made a name for himself in the NBA D-League as Rookie of the Year with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, averaging 21.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 48 regular season games. Mitchell shot .480 from the field, .311 from three-point distance and .712 from the line.

Measured 6-4 15/16 by the PBA, Mitchell was brought in by Talk ‘N’ Text to play the last three games of the Commissioner’s Cup last May and impressed the fans with his explosive offense. He averaged 38.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists. The downside was when he scored over 40 points twice, the Texters lost. Still, coach Norman Black took him back for the Governors Cup. It’s not often that an import is as offensively-gifted as Mitchell whose prolific style is reminiscent of former PBA import Tony (Hurricane) Harris.

The Texters opened the third conference on a slow note. Before last night’s game against Petron, Talk ‘N’ Text had lost three of its last four. In his first five outings, Mitchell averaged 36.6 points with a high of 48 and a low of 30. Against Globalport, he poured in 35 points in 40 minutes. Mitchell failed to chalk up a single assist but the Texters had 20, meaning Black adjusted his offense to suit the import’s style with the locals looking to set him up instead of the other way around. Four Texters compiled at least four assists – Ryan Reyes with seven, Larry Fonacier four and Jayson Castro and Ranidel de Ocampo three each.

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It was only in the Texters’ 112-104 loss to Alaska that Black reunited the team’s four Gilas players – Jimmy Alapag, Fonacier, Castro and De Ocampo. Chemistry is still a work in progress but with Alapag and Castro quarterbacking the squad, Talk ‘N’ Text is expected to make a serious charge with three games left in the single-round blitz eliminations.

Mitchell said he’s ready to do what it takes to get the Texters over the hump. He’s been described by US scouts as a natural three but at Alabama, he also played four. Mitchell said he can play the two-spot, too. “Whatever it takes to win,” he said. “It’s the coach’s call if he wants to play big or small, depending on the matchups.”

Mitchell averaged 19 points and eight rebounds with Swainsboro High School in Georgia as a senior and was heavily recruited. He decided to enroll at Alabama under coach Mark Gottfried, turning down schools like South Carolina and Connecticut. Academic deficiencies stalled Mitchell’s entry to Alabama and he played at Central Park Christian while awaiting eligibility. When Mitchell finally got to Alabama, Gottfried was gone and new coach Anthony Grant was in the saddle. Mitchell’s performance at Alabama was hardly consistent, averaging 9.2 points to 15.5 points and 13.1 points before Grant suspended him with 11 games left in his junior year. He was cited for conduct detrimental to the team and censured for playing soft defense, pouting on the bench and throwing tantrums on and off the court. Mitchell and Grant never hit it off even if in only his second varsity game, he shot 23 points on 10-of-14 field goals. In the end, Mitchell decided to forego his last year of varsity eligibility and try his luck in the NBA.

“It was time to move on,” said Mitchell. “I felt leaving was the best for my situation. I’m grateful to Alabama for the opportunity to play. I learned a lot and it prepared me for the pros.” Mitchell never spoke about his relationship with Grant in The Star interview. “Why I chose Alabama was because we were a bunch of guys at a high school camp and we all decided to go where Robert Horry and Antonio McDyess went,” he said. Alabama also produced Latrell Sprewell and former PBA import Ennis Whatley.

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Mitchell said his stint in the NBA D-League was extremely productive. In a game against the Austin Toros, he sizzled for 47 points as the Mad Ants won in triple overtime. Mitchell also won the slam dunk championship in the D-League All-Star Showcase. But the game he’ll always remember was Fort Wayne’s win over Sioux Falls to make it the playoffs. “It was special because Fort Wayne had never made it to the playoffs before,” he said.

The youngest of five, Mitchell said his parents would never fly to Manila because they couldn’t stand the 15-hour plane ride. Mitchell, who once played on the US U-18 national team, has never played in an overseas league except the PBA.

“The PBA’s a tough league, very physical and competitive,” he said. “You go out there expecting to play 48 minutes. But it’s cool, it’s what I need to do. I’m lucky to be playing for a great organization with a great group of guys. This is excellent preparation for the NBA. I’m not giving up on my NBA dream. I’m enjoying the moment with guys like Jimmy, Harvey, Ali (Peek) and Ranidel.”

Mitchell was surprised that the coach who gave him his first shot at the NBA played for Black in the PBA – Keith Smart with San Miguel Beer. He attended the Kings training camp when Smart was the Sacramento coach. Mitchell said he has no regrets trying out with the Celtics and Knicks last summer. “You can only get better playing for teams like those,” he said. “They’re solid organizations.” At 24, Mitchell is still maturing as a player. His time in the NBA will come and when that happens, he’ll remember the PBA’s role in preparing him for the big jump.


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