LAWRENCE, Kansas — Though he emerged as a four-star prospect and finished well-within the top 100 players in the country upon graduating from Plano West High in Texas in 2014, finding the right fit on the court hasn’t always been an easy task for ASU forward Mickey Mitchell.
The 6 foot 7 forward gained notoriety for his versatile style of play in high school, managing solid numbers across the board in terms of points, rebounds and assists and eventually signed with the Ohio State following his senior season in Plano.
Mitchell missed his first 11 games in Columbus but was able to start in seven of the team’s final 23 contests, averaging 2 points, 2.8 rebounds and 0.7 assists. He then decided to transfer to Arizona State and after sitting out for an extended period of time in Tempe, Mitchell will return to the court for Sunday’s top-20 matchup against Kansas.
“It’s been a long time,” Mitchell said. “Almost two years now. I’m tired of practicing against the starters and I’m ready to play now.”
Though the Sun Devils are thriving — off to a 7-0 start, ranked as the No. 8 team in terms of adjusted offensive efficiency per KenPom — Mitchell’s return couldn’t have come at a better time for ASU.
After Saturday’s victory over St. Johns in Los Angeles, Arizona State will continue their most important road trip of the season, playing against of the most successful programs in college basketball history in one of the toughest places to play in the country: the No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse.
Mitchell is finally returning to the court exactly a year after officially transferring from Ohio State, but it won’t exactly be a warm welcome when he steps on to the court — one that will be surrounded by more than 16,000 of the loudest fans in college basketball and is slotted for a 12 p.m. tip-off on ESPN.
“You can’t really prepare for that,” Mitchell said. “You just have to be in that situation and figure it out. I’ve been in big arenas before (but) I haven’t played there.”
ASU is averaging nearly 93 points a game on offense, but don’t expect Mitchell to add much of his own production in that category. The scoring options are likely solidified at this point — the hierarchy may adjust once more when freshman Kimani Lawrence returns from a stress fracture in his left foot — so Mitchell’s passing ability will be his greatest asset in Lawrence on Sunday afternoon and beyond.
Thad Matta, Mitchell’s former coach at OSU and a tremendous passer during his time with Butler in the late 1980s, praised the forward’s vision and ability to take advantage of defenses’ mistakes to azcentral.com last December.
“He holds (the ball) for a half-second longer than everybody else,” Matta said. “But he sequences all of his looks, which you can’t teach that. He’s seeing the reads, he’s seeing the slips, he’s seeing the weak side.”
Mitchell is entering a terrific position for a player well-versed in distributing the ball. The spotlight may be shining bright on the Sun Devils, but Mitchell can take — and thrive within — a backstage role.
“I’m not going to try and do too much,” Mitchell said. “I want to keep them going, they’re all hot shooting the ball right now.”
He may have been unable to play on the court during meaningful moments over the course of the last two years, but Mitchell hasn’t just been sitting around.
“He’s dropped 25 pounds and you know a whole lot of body fat,” Hurley said of the OSU transfer. “He’s just been focused and pushing himself. He wants to get back to being the player he was in high school and (was) projected to be at this level.”
Mitchell says he used to eat junk all the time, whenever he wanted. He has since changed his dietary habits though, in an effort to regain the athleticism he was once highly-touted for.
“When I got here I was pretty chubby,” Mitchell said. “I couldn’t even dunk when I got here, it was sad. It was touch not being where I knew my body could be athletically.”
It’s been exactly a year since Mitchell transferred from Ohio State. He’s served his time on the bench, regained his athleticism and will rejoin the Sun Devils for the most anticipated matchup of the Bobby Hurley era.
Though he’ll be taking the court for the first time in two seasons and expectations are skyrocketing for ASU’s red-hot basketball program, Mitchell isn’t ready to ease his focus on the task ahead.
“Win and loss record,” Mitchell said. “Gotta keep this (8-0) record going.”