DALLAS –– Tony Mitchell entered the game Sunday with 47 seconds left.
The Mavericks were well on their way to a 10 point victory over the Detroit Pistons. It was garbage time, but this wasn’t the typical bench dump fans are accustomed to seeing at the end of NBA games.
Mark Followill, the Mavericks’ play-by-play broadcaster, became animated as the 6'8'' forward approached the scorer’s table. Faint cheers were scattered throughout the slim crowd. Mitchell, a Dallas-native, was home and playing in the NBA.
The Pistons had the night prior off. So he headed north to watch his former team, the University of North Texas Mean Green, play.
“It was nice, man. It was lovely,” Mitchell said of the cheers he was greeted with upon his return. He wasn’t surprised, though. Nor should he be –– Mitchell was a standout at North Texas in the two years he played there.
He set the school record for blocks in a season twice, the second time eclipsing his own landmark. He also led the Mean Green to the Sun Belt Conference Championship game during his rookie season. What many remember most about Mitchell’s game, though, is his athleticism.
Mitchell’s journey to North Texas was not a smooth one. Coming out of L.G. Pinkston High School in Dallas, Mitchell was originally slated to attend the University of Missouri. However, the NCAA ruled that he was academically ineligible to play for the Tigers. He spent a year in limbo. Eventually, though, Mitchell found his way to Denton, but not before competing on Team USA’s under-19 squad at the world championships in Latvia.
Before the Pistons selected Mitchell 37th overall in last year’s draft, the last North Texas player to be drafted into the NBA was Lee Winfield in 1969. Mitchell is just the fifth player to play professional basketball from UNT.
As a rookie, it’s been tough for Mitchell to find minutes on a roster with a loaded frontcourt. He has played just 38 and appeared in only 11 games for the Pistons. Earlier in the season, he was sent to Detroit’s D-League affiliate, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, to get some playing time. Mitchell takes it all in stride, though.
“I’m just trying to learn and get better each and every day,” he said.
His opportunities to learn should not be in short supply. In Detroit, Mitchell is surrounded by former NBA champions in head coach Maurice Cheeks, assistant coach Rasheed Wallace and teammate Chauncey Billups. Being around these personalities, if you believe Mitchell, doesn’t seem to faze him.
“It’s cool. It’s cool, you know. It’s like being around a regular person. I can’t say what I really want to say, but other than that, it’s cool,” he said.
Clearly, he has already learned not to give the media too much.
Beyond working to improve his game, Mitchell would like to take part in the Sprite Slam Dunk Competition during All-Star Weekend in New Orleans next month.
“Hopefully I get an invite,” he said. “That would be really exciting for me.”
“It was a really good experience,” Mitchell said of coming back to Dallas and playing before the fans and the 18 people he bought tickets for. “Just to go out there and having fun … it was just good to be home.”
While Mitchell’s return to his hometown was brief and his time on the floor even shorter, it held promise. Mo Cheeks said after the game that Mitchell has a chance. And sometimes a chance is all one needs.
Forty-seven seconds may seem inconsequential to most. However, when it takes a lifetime to get there, it means the world.