Those that follow LSU on the hardwood feel like they have known Tasmin Mitchell forever.
Prior to being signed by John Brady for the 2005 season, Mitchell was selected as Mr. Basketball by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association after a dominant run at center during his four years at Denham Springs High.
In his freshman season with the Tigers, Mitchell averaged over 34 minutes a game on a squad that made it to the Final Four. LSU fell at the hands of UCLA, but Mitchell earned the Chevrolet Player of the Game selection for his 12 points and six-rebound effort.
While his sophomore season did not bring the same NCAA results, Mitchell’s game had improved. He averaged more points (14.7) and rebounds (6) in the same amount of minutes (34).
Just when he was getting heated up, the injury bug struck. After fighting back spasms in 2005, Mitchell’s junior season was cut short after three games due to a stress fracture in the left shinbone. He had season ending surgery on Nov. 29, 2007.
When Mitchell returned to the lineup in 2008, he did so to an unfamiliar face – and position.
Under first-year head coach Trent Johnson, Mitchell was moved to the four spot, a first in the redshirt junior’s career. Despite the switch, Mitchell flourished. He averaged 16.3 points (second on the team) and 7.2 rebounds per game while shooting 52.2 percent from the field (7th in the league) – all while leading the Tigers back to the NCAA Tournament.
With over 100 starts to his credit, Mitchell is the 2009 team’s leader – whether he is ready for the call or not. A good place to start his journey, according to Mitchell, is to change nothing.
“Coach Johnson and I agreed that I should lead by example,” he said. “I need to lead this team somewhere, whether it be to success or no success. I need to show them how to work hard and to get where you want to go, and we will see where that takes us. I will lead if they follow.”
Following the lead of another, it seems, will be a likely trend this season.
The Tigers lost a slew of talent from the 2009 Southeastern Conference Championship team – perhaps most importantly shooting guard Marcus Thornton.
Where that leaves a depleted LSU offense remains to be seen.
“It is going to be a real big change,” Mitchell said. “You can’t just replace a Marcus Thornton. We are really going to have to change a lot up. Coach J has changed some things around in order for us to do that.”
With names like Alex Farrar, Aaron Dotson, Dennis Harris and Garrett Greene moving into the rotation, Mitchell said that the Tigers would temper their expectations until they hit the hardwood.
“We had some firepower last year and everyone knew it, but we have some new guys now,” he said. “This year we have to prove ourselves. We are going to be realistic. I think we are going to grow and be a young team that adapts to situations.
“I think Dennis has a big upside, and Aaron has a real big upside,” he added. “Storm [Warren] can get trash buckets, but still needs to work on his offensive game. And we look at Alex a lot because he has been here for a while. There are going to be a lot of guys that coach will turn to and they will need to step up.”
Mitchell has already done his part in the unit’s strive for excellence. When he tested the NBA Draft waters last summer, he worked alongside other players on the same path. He later decided to return for a final year to polish his skills at the three position, but there was plenty learned in the process.
“I was in and out of Houston working with Jon Lucas, and he taught me a lot that I didn’t know,” Mitchell said. “I worked on my ball handling, my dribbling skills, and my perimeter shooting – I polished it all up.
“The big thing was my perimeter shooting,” he added. “Hitting threes and open shots, using my midrange game when coming off screens and then creating my own shot, those are all things that I am still working on.”
If Mitchell is headed back to his spot as an all-SEC performer remains to be seen. The same unknown goes alongside his draft stock, which Mitchell hopes to bring up during his fifth season on the Tiger campus.
Despite the fact that LSU might be outmanned in conference play this year, and the fact that they are likely not to go dancing in March, Mitchell is all smiles.
“I didn’t get the feedback and position that I wanted to [from the NBA], so I decided to come back with a great coach that can get me that,” he said. “Coach knows his stuff, and he can use me however he wants to use me.
“I think this team can do big things if everyone just believes.”