CRAWFORD | Mitchell was anxious about calling Pitino with his draft decision, but confident he made the right call
At the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, Louisville guard Donovan Mitchell talked for the first time about his decision-making process in leaving the Cardinals to remain in the draft.
CHICAGO (WDRB) – University of Louisville guard Donovan Mitchell said he dreaded making the call to Rick Pitino to tell the coach he was planning to forgo the rest of his college eligibility to remain in the NBA Draft.
Mitchell himself, in the moments following the Cardinals’ second-round loss to Michigan in the NCAA Tournament, could think of little but getting back to work on next season.
Now, Mitchell is working on the next chapter of his basketball career, having signed with an agent to prepare for the NBA Draft. He’s working out in Los Angeles, and on Thursday at the NBA’s Draft Combine said he sat down to speak with nine representatives of NBA teams.
“It took me a while to get over the loss, to be honest,” Mitchell said. “I know right after the game, I said, ‘I’m coming back to win a national championship,’ because that’s just the competitive nature I have inside of me. It took me a while to make a decision. I was really going to miss Louisville, the fans, the coaches, everything about it. But, you know, at the same time you have to think about what’s best for yourself. And I’d say, probably around a week or so after school was out, I decided, ‘You know what? I’m ready.’”
Mitchell said he was encouraged to make the jump by several friends who have been successful in the NBA, and input from various places. He said he consulted with Pitino, who has supported his decision.
Still, breaking the news to Pitino wasn’t easy, he said.
“Oh man, I was avoiding that phone call all day. It was tough,” Mitchell said. “I love Coach P, love everything about Coach P. And I thanked him a million times for what he has done for me the past two years. He said he supports me 100 percent. He completely understands why I made my decision, and he said if I need anything, just give him a call. And the fact that you have that support from him is amazing. It was definitely a tough decision. I talk to the guys on the team every day, still. It’s going to be tough not being around Ray (Spalding’s) jokes and Deng (Adel), but it’s the right decision for me.”
Louisville junior forward Jaylen Johnson also, apparently, believes it was the right decision for him. He announced his decision to remain in the draft a little more than a week ago, and will play, along with Louisville senior Mangok Mathiang, in the IMG Academy’s professional combine next week in Brandenton, Fla.
Mitchell said he’s been in contact with Johnson, and with Adel, but could offer no insight into whether Adel will be back at Louisville or remain in the draft. At least one coach at the combine speculated that Adel might well stay in the draft if he got to compete in the combine, but likely was heading back to school if he didn’t.
“I talk to them both, talked to Deng actually before coming here today. They’re both doing well, both working hard,” Mitchell said. “I’m staying on Jaylen a lot to make sure he’s putting the work in, and he definitely is. On Deng, I’m not sure yet, but I’ve said all year people are going to be surprised at him. I know how great of a player he is, and I think people are going to find out really soon.”
Mitchell said his short stint at point guard last season helped him, but that teams have seen him all over the spectrum of guard positions when he has interviewed, from point to shooting guard to combo guard. He says his defense is the common denominator in those things.
But his athleticism doesn’t hurt. His vertical jump of 41.5 inches was the fourth highest recorded at the combine, and his standing vertical leap of 36.5 inches was the highest at the event. Mitchell didn’t take part in the shooting drills or live 5-on-5 games. When asked if that’s a sign he felt pretty confident that he would be taken in the first round, he nodded.
In fact, confidence is high for Mitchell right now. He says it’s based on how much work he has put in – and how much he is willing to put in. Even the possibility of playing in the NBA’s Developmental League didn’t dieter him.
“I’m just willing to work,” he said. “it’s the one thing I’ve always prided myself on. With the D-League, a lot of guys look at it as a demotion. It’s not. It’s a chance for you to get more rep minutes that you’re not going to get in the League, because you’re a role player, your young. I’m going to be willing to learn wherever it is.”
Because his dad worked for a Major League team, Mitchell grew up around pro athletes. He learned it’s not just a game, it’s a job. But he says he’s having fun pursuing it.
He must be doing something right. When Draft Express released its latest mock draft on Thursday, Mitchell checked in as a lottery pick – No. 12 overall to the Detroit Pistons, though he said he didn’t meet with the Pistons on Thursday and isn’t scheduled to meet with them.
“Wherever it is, it will be a blessing,” Mitchell said. “And I’m just excited to get started.”
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