Donovan Mitchell on Rookie of the Year Race, the Dunk Contest and More

by February 16, 2018
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Donovan Mitchell

Donovan Mitchell has been trying to make a statement in his rookie season. The 21-year-old has had two 40-point games, is averaging 20 points per game and has been an instrumental part of the Jazz’s 11-game winning streak.

He’s played well enough to earn himself two spots at All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles. He’ll be part of Friday night’s Rising Stars Game and then he’ll be soaring in Saturday night’s Dunk Contest.

It’s been a quick rise for the 13th pick in the 2017 Draft. After spending two seasons at Louisville, the Westchester, NY native wasn’t a household name going into the Draft.

“I worked out this past summer with Paul George and Chris Paul and they were really the ones who convinced me to keep my name in the draft,” Mitchell told us this past summer. “We had talks and they said, Look, you’re good enough. Just go out there and show it. [The NBA] was a thought, but I didn’t think it would happen this fast. It’s crazy to me that I’m here now.”

We caught up with Spida to talk about the ROY race, All-Star weekend and more.

SLAM: Are you hearing all the buzz you’ve generated in the Rookie of the Year race?

Donovan Mitchell: It’s hard not to, to be honest. As much as I try not to. It’s kind of crazy to think about all these guys saying that about me. It’s definitely an honor. The one thing people don’t understand is I wouldn’t even be in this position if it wasn’t for the organizaition and my teammates. I’m a rookie coming in and some teams, the guys wouldn’t allow that. But my teammates have been accepting. Even times where maybe I am shooting too much, they encourage me to keep shooting, even if I keep missing. I’m not really too worried about the Rookie of the Year race. I’d rather make the playoffs.

SLAM: Do you have relationships with the other guys in this year’s Rising Stars Game?

DM: Yeah, I’m friends with a lot of the guys in my rookie class, and pretty much everyone on my team I’ve had relationships with. I’m pretty close with John Collins. Kyle, Lonzo, Dennis. All those guys. I’m excited to play with them. Even Jamal Murray on the opposite side.

SLAM: The reasoning for that question is because you’re probably gonna be trying to go get buckets, even though you know these dudes, right?

DM: Oh yeah, this is not just a game to me. It’s not just All-Star Weekend. Hopefully everybody has the same competitive spirit that I always have. I’m going to approach it the way I approach every basketball game. I’m trying to win.

SLAM: And you’re bringing that same mentality to the Dunk Contest? Any preview you can give of what you’ve got planned? 

DM: I can’t really give away all my ideas but I do have things I’ve worked on. I actually just finished working out. I’m excited to go out there and do what I’ve been doing since I was in high school.

SLAM: Who are some of the players that have you given inspiration as a dunker?

DM: I used to watch Aaron Gordon a lot. He’s a two-foot dunker. Zach LaVine, Gerald Green. James White, Terrico White. A lot of two-foot dunkers.

SLAM: As a dunker, how ridiculous was Gerald Green dunking without sneakers back in 2008?

DM: Well as a basketball player, it’s really dangerous. So the fact that he went out and tried it, the fact that he went between the legs is even crazier. As a dunker it was like, Wow. Shoes give you a few inches. And it was off the vert, too, which shows you how much bounce he really has.

SLAM: So you’re gonna be keeping your kicks on during the Contest?

DM: [laughs] Yeah. 100 percent.

SLAM: You’re a tri-state guy, having gone to high school in Connecticut and having connections in New York and New Jersey. Why do you think the tri-state area is producing such serious talent right now?

DM: I think [Isaiah Washington] kinda started his own, with Jelly Fam. Jahvon [Quinerly] and all those guys. They’re a talented group. I think the way they marketed themselves allowed the world to see how talented the New York, New Jersey area really is. It was tough because my years in high school—that feels like forever ago—guys were going to prep school. They were going away. These guys have stayed local, stayed true to home. I think that’s been the biggest thing. They’ve put New York City, New Jersey, the tri-state area back on the map. New York City has been the mecca of basketball. It’s great to see the young guys going out there doing their thing.