Since January, Mickey Mitchell has been confined to his seat on the Arizona State bench.
But despite being sidelined during games, behind the scenes, he is training hard for next season, losing about 20 pounds since coming to Tempe. It's this development and drive that has his coaches impressed.
"Just talking with him you could tell he was determined to get his basketball career back on track and wanted to put the work in," ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said. "You already see that. He's dropped 18-20 pounds from when he got here. He's getting fit, he looks great and he's comfortable in the setting. I think he knows we are basketball people."
After transferring to ASU from Ohio State at the semester break, the sophomore forward will have to sit out until December due to transfer rules. He will then have 2.5 years of eligibility remaining.
Mitchell hasn’t played in a game since March 20, 2016.
“I would love to be out there in a second, but reality says I can’t, so I can’t,” Mitchell said.
As a freshman at Ohio State last year, Mitchell missed the first 11 games of the season due to an eligibility issue. He started the last seven games of the season and averaged two points and 2.8 rebounds playing in 12.8 minutes a game.
Mitchell was initially expected to transfer to UC-Santa Barbara, but said the school didn’t accept two of his classes from Ohio State so it didn’t work out. Instead, he reached out to ASU assistant coach Rashon Burno to see if there would be an opportunity to transfer.
“We just exchanged information and stuff like that,” Mitchell said. “I explained what my situation was and obviously it’s not a normal situation what happened and just really quickly, I was here.”
Mitchell said the main reason he came to ASU was because of Hurley and his staff. And after a year of having a short bench for the Sun Devils, the addition of Mitchell midseason will add depth next season with multiple commits lined up: Kimani Lawrence, Remy Martin and Kenny Wooten.
“The way that he runs the program, it’s at the highest level there is,” Mitchell said. “He’s won at the highest level so he knows what it takes on and off the court to win and that is something I really needed. Plus, just the way he lets his players have freedom on the court and he loves the way I play so I think it’s going to be a good match right there.”
Hurley said Mitchell had a "great track record as a player" and the staff watched video on him before he came to ASU. Mitchell's basketball instincts were "outstanding," according to Hurley.
The first time Mitchell came to the state of Arizona was on his visit to ASU during the weekend of ASU’s UNLV game on Dec. 3. He was able to go back in the locker room and hear Hurley talk with his team and admitted Hurley is a “little bit different” than most coaches.
“Honestly I like it,” Mitchell said of Hurley’s animated, loud demeanor. “I love stuff like that because it gives you a sense of urgency and it never lets you get comfortable so even after a win he lets you celebrate that win and the next day you are full speed in practice like nothing ever happened.”
He has continued his relationship with Hurley off the court as well.
Around Christmas time, the two took trip to Top Golf with Hurley’s son, Rashon Burno, junior guard Shannon Evans, freshman forward-center Ramon Vila, freshman forward Romello White, freshman forward Vitaliy Shibel, and freshman center Jethro Tshisumpa. It was Mitchell’s his first ever experience playing golf.
“We had a great time,” Mitchell said. ”People think he just yells at us at the time and that’s not what he does.”
Mitchell said Hurley actually had the top score out of the whole team, followed closely by himself. One player who didn’t do so well was Tshisumpa.
“Jethro - he’s god awful,” Mitchell said. “He hit someone with a golf ball. Hit he it once and on his way back hit it again and went and hit someone and he had to go apologize. Don’t put a club in his hand.”
Mitchell said he gets along with everyone on the team so far and has great conversations with every player. He said he tries to be a leader as much as he can and sees the drive of his teammates on and off the court.
“Everyone wants to win,” Mitchell said. “That’s everyone’s main goal is just, you can see it in certain games. They get together and you can see they play harder when they do that. They are still finding it, but I think they will get it.”
A tight bond between Mitchell and the assistant coaches have also formed. The coaches often text him while the team is on the road to catch up and ask how he’s doing and if he’s putting in the work while they are away.
The last time Mitchell had to sit out this long was in high school. He had a lower back injury and had to sit out for most of the season. However, this time around, Mitchell is able to practice, a benefit for him and his game.
Away from Arizona, Mitchell was raised in Texas with his mom and dad and also has eight siblings: Missi, Mandi, Monte, Matt, Misha, Mike, McKinley and Morgan.
“They are excited for me,” Mitchell said. “None of them have been out to Arizona besides my mom so they are hopefully going to visit soon.”
While at ASU, Mitchell will be majoring in Business Communications. He has yet to decide on a career path after graduation, but is taking advantage of all the time he has left in his college career.
“I’m loving it here,” Mitchell said. “I am blessed to be here, given this opportunity and making the most of it.”
Mitchell played high school basketball at Plano (Texas) West and was highly regarded as a four-star prospect. He was eighth grade phenom, putting out a highlight reel that caught the attention of a lot of schools — and trolls.
“A lot of it was more hate to be honest,” Mitchell said. “I felt like there was more hate than love from the videos and me playing growing up. Like you guys see child (prodigy) or whatever, but I see more hate than anything.”
Mitchell said he never really thought being a “child prodigy,” and it didn’t change how he felt as a person or a basketball player.
“I didn’t really think about it too much,” Mitchell said. “I still tried to work and it wasn’t going to make me a celebrity or something like that.”
And as ASU heads to the Pac-12 Tournament this week to face Stanford on Wednesday, Mitchell will still be in the wings, waiting for his chance to take the court once again.