Donovan Mitchell felt overlooked at the 2017 NBA draft, sitting and waiting as 12 teams passed him over before he heard his name called. But, as Ben Simmons can attest, what a difference a year makes.
Mitchell, last year’s 13th overall pick, was front and center, one of the hottest commodities in New York City this week. The Utah Jazz guard and NBA Rookie of the Year candidate was mobbed by adoring fans at a Times Square appearance and was a guest on Philadelphia 76ers guard J.J. Redick’s popular podcast. On Thursday night, Mitchell was a regular part of NBA TV’s draft night coverage and made multiple appearances on ESPN.
His first appearance came about 30 minutes before the Phoenix Suns kicked things off by taking Arizona center Deandre Ayton with the first pick. Mitchell was interviewed by ESPN’s Maria Taylor, who asked him for his advice for this year’s draft class.
“Just to embrace it and have fun. Like I said, this is the easy part. I told them that this morning,” Mitchell said. “Just enjoy it because once you get to the league it’s hard work. You’re a freshman all over again. You’re the new guy. …
“This is a once in a lifetime experience. Have fun with it.
Mitchell’s stop in New York was just the latest in a whirlwind summer tour — with stops in Greece, China and the Philippines — that has only highlighted the 21-year-old’s star quality and global popularity. Mitchell filmed autograph-seeking fans chasing his car through the streets of Manhattan this week and surrounding him as he made his way out of a Champs Sports in Times Square on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Mitchell was mic’d up and under the lights at Barclay’s Center on NBA TV’s production stage. When it was time for the Clippers to draft at No. 13 — Mitchell’s draft position a year ago — the NBA TV crew asked the Jazz guard a question: Who is this year’s Donovan Mitchell?
The Jazzman said he liked Jerome Robinson, the versatile scorer from Boston College, and Lonnie Walker IV, the Miami product who ended up being selected by the San Antonio Spurs at No. 19.
“He has that factor,” Mitchell said of Walker. “Like, he’s quiet, but he’s a killer.”
But, Mitchell added, he didn’t like making the comparisons.
“To hear people say, ‘Who’s the next me?’ In my lifetime, it’s always been who’s the next LeBron [James]. It’s incredible. It’s a blessing. But I don’t like it, because it puts a lot of pressure on the rookie,” Mitchell said. “I’ve come to a point where I realize what I did this year was not normal. It took a while to realize that. I was blessed with an opportunity, certain situations, a team that believed in me from day one. Not all teams are like that.”
And when the Jazz drafted Duke guard Grayson Allen with the 21st-overall pick, Mitchell interrupted Allen’s first interview to give his new teammate a hug.
“We can do so many things,” Mitchell said. “Adding a guy like him — elite scorer, great guy, great defender who plays unselfish, we got a good one with him and we’re excited.”