Prep boys' basketball: Mitchell out to fulfill hoops dream
The nimble Syracuse guard weaved to the hoop through a maze of Layton defenders and put just enough English on his acrobatic layup that the ball kissed off the glass and into the hoop.
The guard tumbled to the hardwood behind the baseline. The Syracuse crowd chanted, "He's a legend! He's a legend!" The Lancer student section was quick to respond: "What's his name? What's his name?"
His name is Diante Mitchell, and if by the end of the season he accomplishes what he's set out to do, the Titan faithful won't be the only ones who know it.
"We want a region title, a good placement in the state tournament and we want to go as far as possible," Mitchell said. "That includes going all the way down to the state tournament and playing whoever it is."
Playing in the state tournament, with its glitz, glamour and loud, eager crowds, long has been a goal for Mitchell. When he was younger, he and his teammates would sit in the stands and daydream about the day it would be them on the court.
"When it was state tournament time, we'd miss school and go to wherever it was and sit all day, watching basketball," Mitchell said. "We used to talk about how we wanted to be down there playing and have kids watch us play."
Mitchell got a small taste of the playoff atmosphere two years ago at the end of his sophomore season when the Titans earned a spot in a play-in game. But they lost by two on their home court to Pleasant Grove.
Syracuse didn't even make it that far in Mitchell's junior season. The Titans won just one Region 1 game despite Mitchell averaging double figures in points.
But this season, with one final chance, Mitchell has done everything in his power to make sure he finally gets to play under the lights at the Dee Events Center.
"He's a special individual who wants it really, really badly," Titans coach Justin Nelson said. "And even though he's enjoying some success, he has that drive that champions have. That's a special thing in a high school kid."
After dedicating the offseason to improving his jumper, which has made defenses guard Mitchell tighter on the perimeter, leaving them vulnerable to his dribble penetration, Mitchell has poured in just less than 20 points per game. He's also piled up rebounds and assists and become a do-it-all guy for the Titans.
"He is the most complete player that I've ever been around," Nelson said. "He does everything well all aspects of the game.
"I would put Diante up against any guard in the state. His athleticism and the things that he does, it's tough for high school players to do everything as well as he can."
Mitchell's contributions have led to wins. Syracuse entered the week 11-6 on the season, and after losing their first two Region 1 games, the Titans beat both Weber and Layton on the road to put themselves into the thick of playoff contention.
With just a few games left on the schedule and only a handful of wins from achieving his goal, Mitchell can see the postseason on the horizon. And if he's able to put the finishing touches on his Syracuse career by delivering the Titans into the playoffs, there won't be many opposing student sections unfamiliar with his name.
"When you start winning and you get to the big stage and people start to see what he's all about, he'll open some eyes," Nelson said. "Everybody that sees him realizes there's something special there."