CRAWFORD | Mitchell, an old-school high-riser, shows strides in - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Mitchell, an old-school high-riser, shows strides in Louisville's win

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Louisville freshman Donovan Mitchell (AP photo). Louisville freshman Donovan Mitchell (AP photo).

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Donovan Mitchell is a true University of Louisville throwback.

There have been plenty of guards come through here who could jump out of the gym. But Mitchell climbs to a cruising altitude like some of the quickest and the highest. He bounces. He gets up in a hurry, like Alvin Sims or Everick Sullivan, LaBradford Smith or Cornelius Holden. Maybe Jerome Harmon.

It’s all you can do to keep Denny Crum from climbing down out of the crowd to post him up on somebody.

But on Saturday against Eastern Michigan at the KFC Yum! Center, the 6-3 freshman showed he’s about more than just aerial artistry. He dished out seven assists, pulled down six rebounds, grabbed two steals and was on the floor maybe a half-dozen times in 28 rock-solid minutes to help the No. 22-ranked Cardinals to another rout: 86-53.

Mitchell scored just five points and went 2 of 7 from the field, but matched Snider for the game-high in playing time at the guard spot, which tells you a little bit about what Rick Pitino thinks of his play right now.

The Cardinals’ coach said Mitchell has picked it up a notch in practice.

“He had a practice the other day, we had a pro scout in and he said, ‘Boy, I didn’t realize he (Mitchell) was that good,” Pitino said. “He just had an unbelievable practice that day, and actually the last week of practice he’s been great. He’s getting more comfortable handling the basketball, he’s improved his shot immensely, he’s improved his passing.”

Everybody knew during his high school days that Mitchell was a freakish athlete. His first two months at Louisville, however, have been devoted to becoming a better basketball player. He said he’s only in the past week or so started to feel completely comfortable with the demands of the college game.

“I was blessed by God to have the ability to jump really high, I just try to use it to help the team every way I can, whether it’s rebounding or on defense, I missed a couple of dunks today but in any way I can use it,” Mitchell said. “The learning process, I’m starting to figure little things out, whether in practice or the games. Letting the game come to me is huge, not getting to excited and using too much energy. In high school, I used a lot of energy in warm-ups, dunking. Now I’m focusing on keeping calm the whole game, and I’ve been talking to Damion (Lee) about keeping cool the whole game, even keel.”

Lee said he’s not just a friend of Mitchell’s, but a fan.

“Hell of a player, hell of an athlete, hell of a person,” Lee said. “Sometimes in practice I talk to him to try to give him a little bit of instruction and a little bit of stuff that I know. But he’s just a joy to be around. On the court, and off the court, we’re always talking. Sometimes he’ll be up in his room and I’ll be in mine and we’ll just face time, watching a game together or talking about scouting, stuff like that. Great player, great person. I’m glad to have this one year from him.”

I asked Mitchell if Pitino told him about the NBA scout who complimented him after practice.

“I honestly don’t pay attention to who is in the gym,” Mitchell said. “I just want to be the best player I can be for this team. You can’t just sit there and focus on the next step. I’m just making sure I’m doing my best, and hopefully win a national championship with this team this year. I’m basically with my family here. We’re a big family. . . . I owe that to them.”

More takeaways from Saturday's win:

Spalding sparkles: Fellow freshman Ray Spalding was the other major catalyst for Thursday’s win. He has had breakout games before. In this one, the Cards started the game a bit slowly offensively, then he entered and took a feed from Donovan for a dunk, and was off and running.

He hit a turnaround jumper from outside the lane, then anticipated the ensuing inbounds pass and sprinted from midcourt to steal it and slam it.

Spalding finished with 11 points. He also had seven rebounds, three blocks, two steals and two assists. He angered Pitino when, after a couple of sloppy inbounding turnovers early in the second half, he said it was someone else’s fault.

“That crawled under my skin quite a bit,” Pitino said. “Just hustle out of the game and don’t worry about it. But like I’ve said before, Ray is a great person and outstanding basketball player. I think Louisville fans are going to see one of the best forwards in quite some time here. We’ve had some great ones with Scooter and Rodney (McCray), and going back before that. We’e had some terrific basketball players, but this young man has got a great career ahead of him.”

Stat of the day: Spalding played just 18 minutes Saturday. In the time he was on the court, the Cardinals were plus-41. The plus-minus stat isn’t always statistically significant. But that one is.

Balanced attack: In all, the Cardinals put five players into double figures. After a scoreless first half, Lee had 16 in the second to lead the Cards. Quentin Snider added 13, Chinanu Onuaku 12, and Trey Lewis had 11.

Pitino's take: “We played good defense but didn’t rebound the basketball like we’ve been doing in the past, and it led to 17 second shots,” Pitino said. “. . . We didn’t play great but we did play good. We’re a pretty good offensive basketball team. . . . Although our defensive numbers are good, we’re winning with offense.”

Shooting surges: The difference a year makes? Louisville ranked eighth in the nation in field goal percentage coming into the game. This was the seventh time the Cardinals have shot 50 percent or better from the field. A year ago, the Cards hit 50 percent or better just eight times. They’ve been above 53 percent in five of those games this season. They did it only three times a year ago.

How much of that has to do with competition? They shot 43 percent at Michigan State, so perhaps a bit. We’ll find out more the day after Christmas. For now, this team isn’t letting up, regardless of opponent.

“We just focus on the next game,” Mitchell said.

Copyright 2015 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.

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