Donovan Mitchell almost returned to college in 2017, depriving the Utah Jazz of getting their franchise player. The guard had second thoughts about entering the NBA draft until two superstars convinced him he was good enough to make it to the league.
That season, he took the league by storm, becoming a candidate to win the ROY award that ultimately was given to Ben Simmons. His emergence was something to watch in that campaign. The player revealed he could have been playing in college if he followed his initial plan.
Four years ago, Tim MacMahon of ESPN explained that Mitchell was unsure about his chances to make it to the league.
Mitchell didn't even plan on being part of this draft class. He paid all of his expenses when he traveled to Thousand Oaks, California, in the spring to participate in the Creative Artists Agency pre-draft camp because he wanted to maintain his eligibility at Louisville.
He figured he'd measure himself against legitimate draft prospects, get a feel for what aspects of his game needed development and head back to school for his junior season.
"When I left school, my room was still clean, full of stuff," Mitchell said. "I never packed. I was coming back for a third year. In my head, 100 percent, coming back.
Fortunately, all of that changed when he linked up with Chris Paul and Paul George. The two players watched the guard and persuaded him to declare to the draft, and the rest is history.
Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George, a couple of CAA clients who worked out with Mitchell at the camp, changed his mind. They convinced Mitchell that he belonged in the NBA. Mitchell didn't trust agents when they told him he should enter the draft. It was different to hear it from established All-Stars.
"He's really good," George told reporters recently, calling Mitchell the steal of the draft. "He's a tough, fearless kid. We all saw that working out with him this past summer. I knew he was going to blossom."
Paul, who invited Mitchell to his summer camp in North Carolina and still talks to him several times a week, scoffs when it's suggested that the Jazz guard's success is surprising.
"He can really, really play," Paul said. "I'm not surprised by it at all. He can play. He's strong, and he loves the game -- both ends, whether it's offense or defense. I don't know if it's because he's in Utah, everybody's surprised by it. I'm not."
Four years later, this man has become one of the best players in the 2021 NBA playoffs, leading his Utah Jazz to win six consecutive games against the Memphis Grizzlies (4-1 in the first round) and Los Angeles Clippers (2-0). Curiously, he's facing Paul George in this round. And, if things fall into place for them, he can face Chris Paul in the Western Conference Finals, too.
Spida is doing impressive things this campaign, clinching the league-best record with the Jazz and looking absolutely dominant in the first rounds of the postseason. He knows the challenge is big for every team in the postseason. Now that big stars like LeBron James and Stephen Curry are eliminated, the competition got a lot harder.
Via The Athletic:
“I have social media, so I’m always on it,” Mitchell said after beating the Clippers in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series.
“I see it, I’m not going to lie,” Mitchell continued. “I see the tweets (about the new blood in these playoffs). We all do. The best thing about it is, that’s what makes these games so competitive. The Clippers – correct me if I’m wrong – have never won a championship. We’ve never won one. Phoenix has never won one. You look at how competitive these games are, I think that’s what makes this playoffs so intense, so exciting
When people talk him down, he only gets fueled. A couple of months ago, Shaquille O'Neal told him he didn't have what it takes to win, and he apparently took that personally.
It's great to see this young player doing his thing, leading his franchise as legends like Karl Malone and John Stockton did back in the day.