In the late summer of 2014, I sat in on the media-only practices for Under Armour’s Elite 24 game to get a good look at prep phenoms Thon Maker, Jaylen Brown, Josh Jackson, Brandon Ingram, Harry Giles, dunking machine Kwe Parker, Terrance Ferguson and Jayson Tatum, among others.
The Elite 24 event was one of the annual high school hoops showcases that I always looked forward to, because while the games were merely glorified slam dunk exhibitions, the practices were where the true action was at.
In those closed-door workouts, you get a clear look at the players’ strengths and weaknesses – who moved their feet well on defense, who played with passion, who could really stroke the ball with a hand in their face, who could facilitate on the break with supreme vision and passing, who was a real man among boys within the combat zone of the paint, and who was just an over-hyped bum that could do nothing more than dunk.
Since the inaugural event, which was held at Harlem’s legendary Rucker Park in 2006 and featured, among others, Kevin Love, DeAndre Jordan, Michael Beasley, Brandon Jennings, Tyreke Evans and Lance Stephenson, I’ve been blessed to do some one-stop shopping there in terms of seeing some of the world’s best basketball talent in its formative stages.
That first game was so hot, the late Adam MCA Yauch of the Beastie Boys directed a blazing documentary on it called Gunnin for That #1 Spot.
http://www.oscilloscope.net/gunnin Synopsis On the corner of 155th Street and Frederick Douglas Boulevard in Harlem, New York lies Rucker Park. By appearances, the green concrete pavement, anchored on either end by its run down slab bleachers, is no different than any other basketball court in the city.
Over the years, the game has featured the likes of Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, John Wall, Brad Beal, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Anderson, Julius Randle, Tristan Thompson, Nerlens Noel, Aaron Gordon, Andrew Wiggins, Stanley Johnson, Devin Booker, DeMar DeRozan and many others.
I walked out of those closed-door practices in August of 2014 with a revelation, thanks to a heads up I’d been given by a friend and colleague. Before the workouts got underway, he put me on to the event’s best kept secret, a native New Yorker named Donovan Mitchell that was playing his prep ball at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire.
Here’s what I wrote back then – “When former Bounce Magazine Editor-in-Chief Sean Couch told me that Donovan, a New York native, was a smaller version of Dominique Wilkins in terms of his rim-wrecking skills, I couldnt wait to get into the gym to see it with my own eyes. And the young fella did not disappoint in the least. His alley-oop dunk off the three-quarter-court pass from Derrick Jones made SportsCenters Top 10, but his numerous rams in practice were equally mesmerizing. He plays a powerful, attacking brand of ball and is built like an NFL linebacker. He also showed some sweet passing ability and a very nice mid-range jumper. Donovan has signed with Louisville and coach Rick Pitino.”
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From that moment on, I made it a point to peep him at Louisville whenever the Cardinals appeared on national television. Mitchell broke out during his sophomore season last year when he averaged 15.6 points, 2.7 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game. He shot 46.3 percent from the floor, 35.4 percent from three and 80.6 percent from the free-throw line en route to being named First Team All-ACC.
Mitchell bolted for the NBA after his sophomore campaign, where he was selected with the 13th overall pick.
Highlights of Donovan Mitchell during his sophomore season at the University of Louisville. #L1C4. Go Cards. All video footage is copyright of ESPN, CBS, Fox Sports, the ACC, and the University of Louisville. It is reused for nonprofit purposes in accordance with federal Fair Use Laws.
Now, in hindsight when looking at this year’s rookie crop that elevated out of the most recent Draft, it’s reasonable to assert that either Jayson Tatum or Mitchell should have been the top overall pick.
Last night, Mitchell scored 25 points, including a go-ahead jumper with 39.2 seconds left, and his Utah Jazz squad extended its NBA-best winning streak to 10 games with a 101-99 win over the San Antonio Spurs. The Jazz had trailed by as many as 13 points during the fourth quarter.The rookie guard scored eight of Utah’s final nine points over the last 2:54 of the game. He hit a pair of go-ahead baskets and a free throw to give the Jazz the lead in the final minute. The Jazz (29-28) moved above .500 for the first time in more than two months.
Donovan Mitchell CLUTCH 25 Pts, 7 Rebs, 5 Assists, MVP Chants | Feb 12, 2018 | Utah Jazz vs San Antonio Spurs – 25 Pts, 13 Pts in 4th! ‘FreeDawkins NBA Video’ –Like And Subscribe For More! Follow me on Twitter – https://twitter.com/DawkinsMTA Boxscore – http://www.espn.com/nba/boxscore?gameId=400975591 DISCLAIMER – All clips property of the NBA.
No NBA rookie, even the early season favorite for the Rookie of the Year Award in Ben Simmons, is balling out like Mitchell right now. We’re talking about a first-year player leading his team on a playoff push in the rugged Western Conference!
Simmons, who sat out his true rookie season with an injury, is averaging 16.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists, but he’s shooting an abysmal 56 percent from the free throw line and he hasnt made a 3-pointer yet.
This is what Mitchell has been doing over the last few months –
November: 18.1 ppg, 41% FG, 37% 3FG
December: 23.1 ppg, 50% FG, 35% 3FG
January: 22.1 ppg, 45% FG, 32% 3FG
February: 21.3 ppg, 41% FG, 42% 3FG
Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell scored a career-high 41 points, a franchise rookie record, against the New Orleans Pelicans. Mitchell’s 41 points tonight are the most in a game by a Jazz rookie, surpassing Darrell Griffith’s 38 points in Feb. 1981. Griffith served as a mentor to Mitchell during his time at Louisville.
Other than Simmons, people were talking when the year started about Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum, Josh Jackson and De’Aaron Fox as the best bets to win Rookie of the Year. Right about now, the award is Mitchell’s for the taking.
During their recent winning streak, the Jazz have beaten six playoff teams and the top two teams in each conference, Toronto and Golden State. Mitchell scored 40 while making 14 of his 19 shot attempts in a recent win over Phoenix, the second time this year hes scored at least 40.
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell will replace Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon in the 2018 Verizon Slam Dunk on Saturday, Feb. 17 at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Mitchell leads Utah and all NBA rookies in scoring with 19.7 points per game to go with 3.5 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.53 steals in 49 games.
He also became the first rookie since the incomparable Wilt Chamberlain in 1959-60 to lead his team in scoring during a 10-game winning streak.
Donovan Mitchell doing things only Wilt has done during this 10-game win streak for the Jazz.
Mitchell has spoken loudly and clearly with his exceptional play thus far, showing off his full array of offensive skills while morphing into the go-to scorer for the Jazz. He’s averaging a team-high 19.5 points, 3.4 assists, and 3.5 rebounds per game.
He’s no longer the league’s best kept rookie secret. He’s gunnin’ for that No.1 spot.