Tony Mitchell will take his sky-high potential to Detroit. (Photo courtesy of the University of North Texas)
Friday, Jun 28 at 7:42 PM
For the first time in 37 years, a player who attended the University of North Texas will join an NBA roster. With the 37th overall pick in the NBA Draft, the Detroit Pistons selected UNT's own Tony Mitchell. Mitchell was a standout forward for the Mean Green in his two seasons in Denton and was arguably the best player to take the court in the history of the men’s basketball program. Lee Winfield, who played from 1969-1976 with several organizations, was North Texas’ last NBA player.
Mitchell was a top prospect coming out of Dallas’ Pinkston High School and was initially set to attend Missouri. However, academic eligibility issues led him to North Texas. Mitchell was predicted to flourish against the competition he faced in the Sun Belt, and in his first season he showed signs of doing just that. Yet, his second season was not as successful. His numbers dropped across the board and he finished the season with per game averages of 13 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks. These struggles this can somewhat be attributed to new Head Coach Tony Benford and his staff being brought in. Injuries across the roster also factored into the dip in Mitchell's play as he became the primary focus of opposing defenses.
Mitchell remained one of the most athletically gifted players in the Draft, however. His performance at the draft combine especially stood out and many drew comparisons between him and the likes of Paul George and Shawn Marion. Due to this, Mitchell was projected by many analysts to be taken late in the first round. This would not be the case, though.
Since the combine, Mitchell worked out with a number of teams, among them the Knicks, Suns, Bucks, Pacers, Nets, Timberwolves, and Clippers. On the morning of the Draft, Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted
that Flip Saunders, the coach of the Timberwolves, was very impressed with Mitchell at that the team could possibly draft him with the 26th pick. Instead, Minnesota found itself moving all over the board as they were involved in multiple trades. It was also widely rumored that the Knicks could take him in the late first round as Mitchell’s rebounding appealed to them after the Pacers manhandled them in that department during the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Now, though, Mitchell is a Piston. Detroit isn’t a good team; they finished last season with a record of 29-53. They do have some good young players to build around, however. Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond hold down the interior while Kyle Singler operates along the perimeter. With the eighth overall pick in this year's draft, Detroit selected Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the SEC player of the year. The 2012 Pistons also featured a savvy veteran point guard in Jose Calderon, though he's now a free agent.
Detroit is a rebuilding franchise and has been for some time after dissolving the roster that took them to consecutive NBA Finals in 2005 and 2006. This season, like many of the previous ones, looks to be a struggle. How will that affect Mitchell? As a sophomore, when the Mean Green stumbled through the season, Mitchell often became disengaged. If he is to be the player he is capable of at the NBA level, he must be fully involved at both ends of the floor. He cannot afford to take a play off.
While the wins will be tough to come by in Detroit, Mitchell should see playing time under head coach Maurice Cheeks. The roster is young and the opportunities should present themselves. His athleticism and ability to block shots and rebound will be the biggest factors in Mitchell finding playing time. If he takes the time to develop a respectable outside shot (he already has a decent – if unrefined – post game) he could become a “3 and D” player along the lines of a Danny Green. Mitchell already sees himself as a stretch four so it wouldn’t be a huge undertaking to mold his game to fit this skill set.
Hopefully, Mitchell seizes the opportunity and joins the ranks of the many elite forwards that have come from the Dallas area. He has the physical attributes. Now, he just needs to put in the work. Based on the number of workouts he attended and the way he has composed himself since entering the Draft, he is ready to play and succeed at the next level.
Doyle Rader spends his time off watching, thinking about and writing about basketball. So when UNT gets a promising athlete, life is good. You can follow him as he follows Tony Mitchell's career at @thekobebeef.