Donovan Mitchell a hit in Manila
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - June 19, 2018 - 12:00am

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell kicked up a storm during his brief visit to Manila and a highlight was joining the ESPN5 TV panel covering the PBA Commissioner’s Cup “Manila Clasico” game between Barangay Ginebra and Magnolia at the Smart Araneta Coliseum last Sunday.

Mitchell, 21, is in contention with Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons for NBA Rookie of the Year honors. The winner will be known at the NBA Awards Night in Santa Monica, California, on June 25. Based on numbers alone, Mitchell is the hands-down choice to claim the trophy. But aside from what he compiled in the regular season, Mitchell brought a whole new level of play to his game when the Jazz made it to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs. He broke all kinds of records along the way and fearlessly engaged Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul in hair-raising playoff shootouts.

Mitchell was in town to promote the shoe and apparel brand Adidas. To coincide with Mitchell’s arrival, Adidas unveiled Kobe Paras as its latest endorser. Ricci Rivero and high school sensation Kai Sotto were supposed to be introduced as new signees, too, but for some reason, they were kept on hold. Rivero will play for UP in the UAAP seniors next season while Sotto is with Ateneo in the UAAP juniors. In the US, high school and college athletes are prohibited from signing endorsement contracts.

Before putting on his head-microphone, Mitchell went through the pre-game stats in a meeting with the ESPN TV panelists. He was briefed on the PBA season format. Mitchell said he could understand why foreign players enjoy balling in the PBA because Filipino fans love the game like crazy. He wasn’t surprised that former NBA players and even first round draft picks like Arnett Moultrie of Magnolia came over. Mitchell asked about the practice of naturalizing imports and was told former NBA center Andray Blatche is in town to play for the Philippines in the next FIBA Asia/Pacific qualifying window. Another naturalized import who’s playing for GlobalPort in the PBA is Malcolm White of Bahrain.

Mitchell nodded his head when informed that foreign players make a good living all year round with the option of signing a contract in Europe then the Philippines then China. He said a Louisville varsity teammate was Meralco import Arinze Onuaku’s younger brother Chunanu who now plays for the Houston Rockets.

One of the first things Mitchell looked at in studying the pre-game stats was turnovers. His eyes widened when he saw former Magnolia import Curtis Kelly averaged 5.5 turnovers a game. It was explained that imports play a lot of minutes and get the majority of touches so they’re prone to errors. Mitchell was impressed with Ginebra import Justin Brownlee’s stats of 20.3 points, 17.3 rebounds, 8.7 assists, 2.0 blocks and 45 minutes a game.

On TV, Mitchell was even more impressed with Brownlee’s performance, noticing how he attacked the mismatch on unstoppable isolations. Mitchell, who has dreams of becoming a broadcaster after his playing days are over, was on point in his analysis. After Magnolia surged to a 6-0 lead, Mitchell said Ginebra coach Tim Cone was on the money to call a timeout to regroup the troops. When Ginebra began to slow the tempo down and take advantage of its size in the halfcourt, Mitchell said momentum went the other way. In one instance, Mitchell called Joe DeVance for traveling which wasn’t spotted by the referees. TV panelist Magoo Marjon quipped that “they do that too in the NBA,” referring to both the travel and the missed call.

Mitchell was a revelation as a storyteller in his cameo TV appearance. He spoke about how as a late replacement for Aaron Gordon, he had little time to practice for the NBA Slam Dunk contest last February and wore Vince Carter’s jersey for his last jam because Vinsanity’s his all-time favorite dunker. Mitchell said he’s embraced the influence of international players surrounding him with the Jazz and it’s improved his game. He said international players are more serious about fundamentals than American players who often rely just on their athleticism. Mitchell singled out his mother Nicole, a pre-school teacher, as a big influencer in his life. It was his mother who sharpened his focus as an athlete and made him realize the importance of education. Even as he left Lousville after two years to turn pro, Mitchell is pursuing his degree by enrolling in on-line courses.

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