UNT will host Arkansas State tonight in the final home game of the season, which raises a key question: Is this the last we will see of Tony Mitchell?
Mitchell has not had the season he had hoped for, and neither has UNT. The 6-foot-8 forward was the Preseason Sun Belt Player of the Year and was expected to take a big leap forward this year after a standout freshman (half) season.
It seemed reasonable at the time. Mitchell would have a full off-season to work on his skills and UNT had just about every key player back from a season ago, although the Mean Green did lose head coach Johnny Jones to LSU.
To say things have not worked out would be an understatement.
UNT struggled mightily with the move from Jones’ system that had the Mean Green running the floor and running a very familiar set of plays in halfcourt situations to a new style under head coach Tony Benford. UNT has more freedom in Benford’s system — something UNT’s players noted early in the season — and struggled with the transition.
Mitchell is shooting 44.2 percent from the floor and 29.5 percent from 3 on the year, down from 56.7 percent and 43.9 percent, respectively, last year. UNT’s scoring average as a team has dropped from 70.3 points a game to 66.3 points a game, while it is allowing 69.2 points a game, up from 65.0 points a game last year. It’s the second set of numbers that are most glaring after UNT spent so much time leading up to the season working on and talking about playing better defense.
The question now is if Mitchell will be back to try to help turn things around next year. Mitchell has maintained all along that he will sit down with his family and consider his options after the season.
That is why the next few days will have so much to do with what Mitchell ends up deciding to do. If UNT continues to struggle and is ousted early in the Sun Belt tournament, it could affect Mitchell’s feelings about how things are going and prompt him to leave. A miracle turnaround and an NCAA bid would be the perfect way for Mitchell to walk away.
Mitchell could also decide to test the waters, go through workouts, get an analysis of where he might be picked from NBA scouts and then decide.
That seems like the sensible scenario at this point. Don’t discount the fact that Mitchell’s stock could soar if he goes that route. Mitchell shined over the summer at the LeBron James and Amare Stoudemire skills academies.
Mitchell’s skill set is terrific, especially his ability to block shots and play in transition. His athleticism is off the charts.
Don’t think that won’t play well in draft workouts.
As far as a dip in production as a sophomore, Mitchell has a built-in alibi. UNT switched coaches and systems, suffered a series of key injuries and he didn’t have a legitimate center playing next to him. John Odo was supposed to be that player, but ended up following Jones to LSU. UNT brought in Keith Coleman to fill the void, but he has only played sparingly.
The situation could get better next year, largely because of the return of several key players who are out for the year with injuries, including shooting guard Brandan Walton, but JUCO center Arthur Casimiro and JUCO forward Anthony Norris have both dropped out of junior college, leaving UNT’s recruiting class in flux.
There are a lot of issues to consider and one can bet Mitchell is going to take his time taking it all in.
Anyway one looks at it, it’s impossible to ignore the real possibility that tonight might be Mitchell’s last at the Super Pit.