Welcome To College Basketball, Tony Mitchell
Posted December 20, 2011
"I don't think Tony Mitchell is ever going to play college basketball." -- Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports college basketball analyst Seth Davis, January 16, 2011
Yeah, well, so much for expert predictions.
For those of you who missed it, Sunday night's game at the Super Pit was something special. Freshman Tony Mitchell, barely 48 hours after being ruled eligible and one day after his first practice, took the court for the Mean Green against Jackson State. The box score does not do the evening justice.
Fourteen points and 10 rebounds in 20 minutes. A double-double in his first college game, and several highlight-reel moments.
"For his first time out, to watch him play within himself like he did," Mean Green coach Johnny Jones said after the game, "he just did what he's capable of and it says a lot about him and his mindset. You can see he made a huge impact."
A tremendous impact, indeed. Add a shot block, two steals, and numerous opponent's shots altered to his opening night.
Tony's route to Denton is well documented. Academic problems kept Mitchell, the Dallas Pinkston star who was named 2010 Player of the Year by the Dallas Morning News and a five-star recruit by Rivals.com, from graduating with his high school class and left him ineligible to play at Missouri, winner of the initial Mitchell recruiting battle.
While some gave up on Mitchell, Tony did not give up on himself. He qualified and played for the USA Basketball U19 team and, more importantly, enrolled at North Texas and spent the last two semesters getting his grades in order. He couldn't practice with the team and wasn't even on scholarship. And what few expected to occur did come to pass - Mitchell got his grades up and earned his eligibility. That, of itself, is a victory.
Once on the court, it didn't take long to see what Rivals and so many coaches saw in Mitchell.
I've been going to North Texas basketball games for some time (let's just say longer than Tony Mitchell has been around...okay, longer than the Super Pit has been around), and I've never seen one player stir such anticipation or send such an electric buzz through the building as Mitchell did. The simple act of checking into the game at 13:30 of the first half sent a tremor of excitement through the crowd.
The assembled did not have to wait long for the show to begin. Mitchell's first points came suddenly, so much so that if you were looking away you missed it, so fast that it nearly escaped the broadcast crew's call. In an instant, there was Mitchell with the ball, breaking free, going up and gliding from just inside the free-throw line to the bucket as if gravity holds less sway over him, finishing in a one-handed dunk.
"OOOOOOOHHHHHH!" crowd and bench erupted.
There were multiple Mitchell dunks Sunday night. Graceful, powerful...and violent. Windmills. Tomahawks. An offensive rebound and simple put back turned into a two-handed jam that came from behind Mitchell's head. The phrase "attacking the basket" is a cliché but it is unavoidably accurate regarding Mitchell. You could practically see the rim cringing at Tony's approach.
The great thing about this year's Mean Green is that Mitchell is not alone. This is a very talented team; however, it's a very young team so there are going to be growing pains. We've already seen that through the first ten games this year and in Mitchell's first night, but you can see the pieces coming together. The meshing of Mitchell with Chris Jones (what a tandem that's going to be: alley-oop, anyone?), Roger Franklin, Jordan Williams, Kedrick Hogans and the rest of this deep squad was evident Sunday night, and the rippling effect of Mitchell's presence is going to open opportunities for the entire roster.
"The big thing is how his teammates really embraced him," Johnny Jones said of Mitchell after the game. "We're excited to have him be a part of it. I'm excited about our atmosphere and those guys pulling for him."
If you enjoy basketball, this team and the show they put on are essential viewing. There's no telling when a player of this caliber will pass this way again, but he's here now.
Miss this and I promise you will regret it.
Previous Editions of Green Land
December 8, 2011: Weighting For Football
November 23, 2011: Changing the NCAA Landscape, Part 1