Tim Mitchell didn’t survive roster cuts his junior year at Orlando’s University High School. The following year he played a major role though in a successful season for the Cougars, setting the stage for where he is today. I had a chance to cover Mitchell during my time at the East Orlando Sun newspaper during the 2007-08 season. Below is an edited version of a story I wrote about him for the January 3, 2008 edition.
But first an update: Mitchell is currently finishing out his senior season at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida after helping lead the program to its first trip to the NAIA Division II tournament a year ago. Southeastern entered the postseason unseeded but finished third in the country after earning wins over No. 16 Huntington (Ind.), No. 1 Cardinal Stritch (Wis.) and No. 9 Davenport (Mich.), before falling to the eventual champions, No. 5 Indiana Wesleyan, in the semis.
Mitchell led all tournament players with nine blocked shots and averaged 10 points and 10.3 rebounds in four games for a team that finished 27-7 overall. During the 2013-14 season Mitchell blocked 67 shots and shot 58 percent from the floor while averaging 13.6 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. Southeastern is currently 15-11 overall and 9-8 in The Sun Conference.
ORLANDO, Fla. – When Tim Mitchell was unable to secure a roster spot at University High School before the start of his junior year, he had all but given up on his prep playing career.
It seemed as though the closest he’d get to a varsity basketball game would be while watching from the stands. That’s about the time reality set in for the 6-foot-7 post player as he began accounting for his own actions, or lack thereof.
After not making the cut that fall he didn’t have to look far to find someone to blame.
“I wasn’t working hard,” Mitchell admitted. “During the offseason I had to lose weight and get myself in good condition. Then I came out in tryouts [this season] and had to go hard in the weight room and show coach that I really wanted to be on the team and play.”
His efforts are clearly paying off.
The Cougars, now 10-3 overall and 4-1 in District 4, have benefited due to Mitchell’s presence, which has allowed Darrick Brown (15.4 points per game) and Evan Jones (14.1) to damage opponents from both the perimeter and while slashing to the basket.
Mitchell has earned a second chance to return to the game he loves, to play alongside teammates he’s grown up with on and off the court. And he’s been saving plenty of money along the way after paying to watch his peers win just seven games without him in 2006-07.
If sitting through that dismal season isn’t enough to motivate an otherwise dejected student-athlete, then it’s hard to tell what is.
“It was kind of hard at first, seeing all my friends playing ball and wishing I was playing,” Mitchell said. ”But one of my good friends was telling me, ‘Let’s get it back together, let’s work on it together, go to camp, lose weight, play ball together and work hard,’ and then I found myself in the starting lineup.”
That person was classmate Keenan Quash, who persuaded his friend since sixth grade to abandon any talk of hanging up his sneakers for good. He instead encouraged Mitchell to continue hitting the weights and playing ball over the summer break.
“We had a summer league team here at the high school and Tim began learning to get better,” Quash said. “I’d been talking to him every now and then, whenever he’d be struggling, and I’d tell him to just keep going at it. I couldn’t see him quit like that. Basketball is his life, he’s been doing it for so long.”
Quash wasn’t the only one pushing Mitchell in the offseason. It was a close-knit group of players offering support, not to mention demanding coaches who are expecting more from a team that combined for just 15 wins over the previous two seasons.
But most of all it was Mitchell who had to want to succeed for himself, more than any of his teammates or coaches could ever want for him.
“Tim dedicated himself and bought into the program, and it started to show in the fall when he never missed open gym and conditioning,” said UHS coach Matt O’Callahan, who identifies the Comeback Kid as a key component to the squad.
“Our team knew we needed Tim. They encouraged him and he kept knocking on the door. [Give] credit to him that he stuck it out and now he’s going to live through a great senior year.”
On the court Mitchell is shooting 62 percent and averaging 6.5 points, 7 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. So far this season he’s blocked at least seven shots in a game three times, grabbed at least six rebounds in a game nine times and reached double figures in scoring in six outings.
“He makes an impact,” O’Callahan said. “Without him we would not be where we are today.”
It took some tough love to get the message across. A year ago all Mitchell needed was some work ethic while out on the floor, additional weight training off of it, and to lose some of his nice-guy personality, if only for a couple hours each night.
“Tim Mitchell is a story that I’ll be able to tell every kid about that comes into the program and doesn’t make the team at some point,” O’Callahan said. “You don’t have to take no for an answer.”
Chances are he never will again.