Some players would have sulked, but not Mickey Mitchell. He saw an opportunity. He could only hit the floor for practice but wanted to make a difference any way he could.
“I take pride in it because I’m a team guy,” he said. “Seeing them have a 7-0 record right now that helps me out knowing what I do in practice works for them.”
After almost two years of not playing in an organized basketball game, Arizona State transfer forward Mickey Mitchell will return Sunday when the 16th-ranked Sun Devils look to upset No. 2 Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse, one of the rowdiest environments in college basketball.
Mitchell’s college career began at Ohio State, where he played in 23 games (seven starts) as a freshman during the 2015-16 season. As a Buckeye, he averaged 2 points and 2.8 rebounds in 12.8 minutes but figures to have a larger role at ASU.
During the time Mitchell sat out due to transfer rules, he put his effort into practice. Coach Bobby Hurley would often give him tasks before each practice, all of which aimed at simulating the team’s next opponent.
“Guys don’t want to go near Mickey in practice because they just think he might hurt them,” Hurley said. “He’s physical, he’s downhill, he’s a tough guy. We’re excited. I knew he is. It’s been a long year sitting out, it’s not easy.”
Mitchell also worked tirelessly to improve his body, losing 25 pounds to get in shape. He’s currently listed at 225 pounds on ASU’s athletics website.
The 6-foot-7 forward said he was “chubby” when he arrived in Tempe. He couldn’t even dunk.
“I had enough of not being where I knew my body could’ve been and where I knew I could be athletically, so mentally I had to get myself right,” Mitchell said.
So he did something about it. He started doing extra work with the team’s strength and conditioning coach.
And his diet? That changed, too.
“I was a big junk food guy,” Mitchell said of himself when he got to ASU. “I ate whenever I wanted to, whatever I wanted to.”
Now, Hurley describes Mitchell as a versatile player. His unselfishness is not only on display by the way he consistently helped the team in practice, but also in the way he passes when he plays.
The Sun Devils rank fifth in the country in points per game with 92.7. Last season, they were guard-heavy, but this year they’ve gotten a boost from interior players Romello White and De’Quon Lake.
Mitchell seems to add to their balance.
“He’s a willing passer and he’s got a great feel for the game and I know our guards are going to appreciate how tough he plays, how hard-nosed he is — fighting for loose balls, rebounding, tip-ins,” Hurley said. “He does a lot of little things out there to help you win.”
When Mitchell first stepped on campus, now-senior guard Tra Holder was one of the first players to befriend him. The two went out to eat after they first met and have only grown closer since.
On the court, Holder said Mitchell is easy to play with because of his passing ability. The guard also said Mitchell is developing into a better scorer.
“He can stretch the floor, he can shoot it, he can play point-forward,” Holder said. He can do a lot of things. Pretty much, there’s nothing he can’t do.
“He’s going to be a big plus to our team and he’s going to shock a lot of people.”
Mitchell said he anticipates a smooth transition come Sunday because he’s played with the team in practice. He isn’t thinking about whether or not he’ll be rusty because he knows the type of player he needs to be. He said he’ll hustle, but won’t try to do too much and risk messing up his team’s current flow.
Mitchell spent the past year developing his own body and game but also helping his teammates improve with his all-out effort and the way he simulated opponents in practice. It may have been rewarding, but it became tough when he realized he couldn’t help them in games.
Now it’s his turn to get himself ready to play.
“It’s been a long time,” Mitchell said. “Been sitting out almost two years now, so I’m tired of practicing against the starters. I just want to get in there and play now.”