Indianapolis • It was a road game, right?
At times in Wednesday’s clash between the Utah Jazz and Indiana Pacers, it was hard to tell.
It was particularly striking at halftime, as the Jazz jogged out of the tunnel back to their bench, the path was lined on both sides by fans cheering and giving them fives. The only inkling anything was different was they wore red instead of Jazz colors — they were Louisville Cardinals fans clamoring to see Donovan Mitchell, their school’s latest successful product.
“They showed out for sure,” Mitchell said. “It was a lot of fun, and I’m glad I was able to play in front of them.”
While it’s tough to count how many people made the two-hour trek from Louisville and surrounding communities to see Mitchell, it seemed to be in the hundreds. And while coach Quin Snyder joked Mitchell has had a “homecoming” in seemingly every road trip this season, he certainly got a warm reception during Utah’s 104-84 win in Indianapolis, the closest NBA city to his college town.
He didn’t let them down, either: The rookie scored 20 points and added six assists. Afterward, he said the support reminded him of playing in the Derby Classic, an annual spring high school All-Star game.
The road for Louisville hoops has been rocky lately. At the beginning of the season, coach Rick Pitino was swept out the door when the program was implicated in an FBI investigation of players receiving payments. Last month, the NCAA stripped the 2013 Louisville team of its national title.
Mitchell has unabashedly supported his school throughout, and he was glad to feel some of that support back.
There was also a moment of reflection for Mitchell as he sat in the Banker’s Life Fieldhouse locker room: a year before, he said, he had been in that same room after the Cardinals’ season-ending NCAA Tournament loss to Michigan. Where he sat in that game was literally a few feet from where his locker was to play the Pacers.
“It’s just crazy with everything happening so fast — it’s not even been a full year since I was sitting in that spot,” he said. “The turnaround has been insane.”
Sefolosha joins trip
He’s off crutches and ready to travel: veteran forward Thabo Sefolosha, who is expected to miss the rest of the season with a knee injury suffered in January, is on the road with the Jazz for the three-game road trip.
While he won’t play on this go-around — and technically, the Jazz have to pick up his option for next season — Sefolosha has been impactful in other ways. He joined Utah’s bench for Wednesday’s game, cheering and offering players advice.
“It’s good: He’s had a presence off the court, as well as on,” Snyder said. “It’s great for a coach, too, because I enjoy my dialogue with him, and I know he’s the same way with the team, always talking to them.”
Snyder keeps up banter with Booker
After new Pacer Trevor Booker said he keeps close with Snyder during Indiana’s shootaround, the Jazz coach confirmed that account.
“He’s the only guy I’ve known who texts in capital letters until Jae Crowder,” Snyder joked. “Two of the toughest in the league. I’ve been lucky to have an opportunity [to] coach Book. … I enjoy his sense of humor. I have for a long time.”
Booker made his Pacers debut against the Jazz, scoring two points and grabbing two rebounds.