Even as he was on the west coast preparing for the upcoming NBA Draft, former Louisville guard Donovan Mitchell was still able to find the time to sit down for an interview with myself on behalf of Cardinal Sports Zone, and talk about the draft as well as his time at Louisville.
Matt McGavic: Thank you for doing this interview, it’s a pleasure to get to talk to you even with your busy schedule. First of all, how excited are you to take the next step in your career?
Donovan Mitchell: I’m very excited. It’s definitely tough to make it to draft day, and I wouldn’t be there without what Louisville’s done for me, and being in that environment is awesome. I’m excited, I feel like I’m ready. I came out here to L.A. and started performing well, and I just feel like I’m ready to do this, ready just to be a pro and play against pros and take that next step.
MM: When exactly in the process did you decide that you were going to stay in the draft?
DM: I would say when I came out here to L.A. I started working out with guys like Chris Paul and Paul George, and just being able to talk with them, they felt I was ready. They told me that they thought I was ready, and from that point I developed that mindset of “I’m ready” and that’s when I kinda took that leap I guess you wanna call it, and just decided to keep my name in and trust myself. I felt like I was ready after engaging in conversation with those two, and working out and being around those two guys.
MM: Speaking of Chris Paul and Paul George, who are some other people who you would say helped give you good feedback about your game while you were in the draft?
DM: I would say my agent. You know a lot of people think that because you’re an agent, all they’re gonna say is “Oh stay in draft, don’t go back to school”, but it’s different with the agent that I have. We have a relationship where he’s gonna keep it real with me and kinda tell me how me feels. If I don’t play well, if I’ve had a bad workout, he’s gonna let me know about it. Him as well as Don MacClean who I’ve been working out with, he led the Pac-12 in points and he keeps it straight. He’s not gonna tell you how great you are, he’s gonna tell you what you need to work on. So I think the combination of all those people just talking to me and just saying how they think I’m ready I think elevated me and put my confidence at a higher point, which was really high in and of itself.
MM: Now, when you’re interviewing with a team rep like a scout or a manager, what do you tell them that your biggest asset is for any given team?
DM: I tell them that I’m a defensive player. You know, a lot of guys come to the draft and they’re not really sure what they can do. They’re pretty sure what they can do on the offensive end, but on the defensive end is where they need to learn. I think playing for Coach P for 2 years allowed me to take defense and make it a priority, you know make sure that is the main focus of what I can do. I think that being a defensive player, defensive minded, definitely helped me transition easily into the NBA, or easier I should say than most guys.
MM: Now on the flip side of that, what would you say is something in your game that you need to improve on moving forward?
DM: I wouldn’t say it’s something I need to work on, being undersized is something that I can’t really help, but I think I make up for it with my length. The GMs and teams are starting to see that. I’m able to be a pest on defense regardless of my size, it’s being a better a decision maker. Playing for Coach P, you know you can take every shot you want on offense, as long as you are right there ready to play defense. I’m sure you definitely know that from being around the program. This is a different road you’re taking on, you gotta hit the shot. Some games you may get two shots, and you just gotta be able to stay locked in and stay focused and be ready to do your job.
MM: Since a lot of the talking heads see you as an explosive guard and they automatically make the comparison to Russell Westbrook, which player would you say you compare yourself to?
DM: I definitely compare myself to Avery Bradley. That’s a more realistic comparison because not everybody’s a Russell Westbrook. That man doesn’t sleep. I feel like he just goes hard 100% of the time. That work ethic is second to none. Avery Bradley is around my height, same wingspan and such. And you watch when he’s played in the playoffs, he was able to make it hard for Kyrie and make it hard for all these guys who are in the NBA who are these great guards, and some guys who are even taller than him. He was just able to be a pesky defender, and I feel like I can be that same way. And he was also able to knock down shots when needed to, and he even had a 30 point game because he was a well-rounded player, and I think that that’ll be my goal.
MM: At this point in your basketball career, people already know a lot about Donovan the player. But what is something people don’t know about Donovan the person?
DM: What a lot of people don’t know about me is I’m really focused on not being just a basketball player. That’s been my motto my whole life. Growing up in Greenwich, basketball wasn’t the main sport. Going to a private school, it was just a sport. It was something to help me peak and become a more rounded, high character guy. I take that upon myself to treat others and everybody with the utmost respect, and just to make sure that at the end of the day people know that I’m a high character, high-class kinda guy. I think that’s what I want people to know most about me.
MM: Absolutely. Now, you had a great two-year run here at the University of Louisville and quickly developed into a fan favorite. Tell me, what would you say is your favorite memory from your time here in a Cardinal uniform?
DM: Oh that’s easy for me. Beating Kentucky would be the best moment I’ve had. That game itself was crazy, I’ve never seen Coach P so excited after a win, and just the overall environment of that game. I still talk about how I was shaking the entire game, like there was not a moment during the game where I wasn’t shaking. I can’t even explain how I felt shooting those free throws at the end of the game. It had me buckled down to my knees to be honest with you. But that was the highlight of my Louisville career.
MM: Speaking of which, since you’ve experienced the Louisville/Kentucky rivalry in both arenas as a star player, how would you describe the rivalry to those who are unfamiliar with it?
DM: It’s the most cutthroat rivalry I would say in basketball. Not just college basketball, high school basketball whatever it may be. It’s the most cutthroat rivalry in basketball. It’s life or death. I know we didn’t make it past the second round, but I feel like the city was still behind because of that win. It’s easy for a fan base to get down on a team that loses; we were expected to be in the elite eight or final four. But even though we beat Kentucky, we still have that over them. That just shows how much that one game means. It’s played once a year, so it’s not like Duke/North Carolina where you play three times a year. This is it, you get one chance and it’s like the Super Bowl. It can go your way or it’s can’t go your way. It’s definitely the most intense rivalry I’ve ever been a part of.
MM: With all the negative press that was surrounding the program with the scandal going on, how hard was it to look past all that and remain focused on practice and in games?
DM: It was really easy to look past to be honest. I don’t think there was a time this whole year where I thought about it. I don’t think any of us thought about it. We just focused on winning games, and I was excited to play in the tournament to be honest.
MM: Now I have to ask you this, in your last home game against Duke, when you and Grayson Allen were tussling to the floor, did you or did you not intentionally slap him?
DM: *laughs* It was in the moment, I didn’t do it on purpose. It just happened on the way up. *more laughing*
MM: *laughs* Alright, fair enough. Well thank you for your time Donovan, I appreciate it. Good luck in the draft.
DM: Thank you so much, take care.