"I'm going to bleed Mean Green until I die," said Tony Mitchell in Pistons locker room after his return to Dallas.
DALLAS – The highest NBA Draft pick in North Texas history returned home for the first time on Sunday night. With 47 seconds remaining in a 116-106 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, Detroit Pistons head coach Maurice Cheeks gave Tony Mitchell the nod.
The arena sprung to life as Mitchell jogged to the scorer’s table to check in. Everyone that got to know the talented power forward from his years of hooping across the North Texas region rose to their feet.
It was a special moment for Mitchell, who grew up in the shadow of the American Airlines Center and graduated from nearby Pinkston High School. He still had to come up with 18 tickets despite whittling down his requests to close family and friends.
“It was amazing getting to just come home and see everybody,” Mitchell said. “I got to go out and have fun in front of everyone that means so much to me. Of course, we lost the game, but it was still great to be home.”
Mitchell arrived on North Texas’ campus in the spring of 2011 with the resume of a national top 10 recruit and the type of frame and athleticism not often seen by the likes of North Texas. After paying his own way for a year, he burst onto the scene in the second semester of the 2011-12 season and began immediately redirecting opponent shots into the stands.
He set the school record with 70 blocked shots that year and carried North Texas to the Sun Belt championship game with highlight-worthy dunks in every outing. Mitchell joined Kentucky’s Anthony Davis as the only freshmen in the country to average a double-double that year.
Mitchell’s return to Denton that fall led to more offseason media exposure for North Texas basketball than the program had ever experienced. Mitchell granted every interview and photo request in stride, and posted 87 blocks as a sophomore to break his own school record.
Still, it was his likability amongst his teammates and fellow-students that he’ll be remembered for most around campus. Mitchell’s goofy smile and half-serious demeanor seem to have their own gravitational field.
“I miss UNT,” Mitchell said. “I miss the atmosphere of being on campus. I love that place to death. There’s nothing like UNT, and I’m going to bleed Mean Green until I die.”
Mitchell was voted the best athlete in the 2013 NBA Draft class by his peers, but playing time has been tough to scratch out in a league chocked full of the best the planet has to offer. After going with the seventh pick in the second round of the draft, Mitchell is averaging one point in 3.5 minutes in 11 appearances for the Pistons.
In an effort to give the rookie some much-needed playing time, the Pistons sent Mitchell to their NBA D-League affiliate, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, for a six-game stint. He averaged 6.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks and earned his way back to Detroit just in time for the trip to Dallas.
But anyone that knows Mitchell knows that he’s a pretty shrewd customer when it comes to evaluating basketball talent – especially his own. Mitchell remains confident in his game, and the fact that his chance to turn heads in the NBA will come.
“I spent some time in the D-League, basically just learning how to be a rookie,” Mitchell said. “All of the vets have been great, giving me advice and tips on all of the things they went through. I’m just trying to take everything in and learn how to be a better player. I just have to stay patient.”