Cleveland: It was only last year that Donovan Mitchell agonised over the decision to turn pro and join the NBA this season. He was inclined to stay back in college for another year to power his college team Louisville Cardinals' challenge for the NCAA Championship and skip the NBA Draft. But as fate would have it, he did enter the draft and after being chosen as the 13th overall pick, the 21-year-old ended the season as a Rookie of the Year finalist after having led the Utah Jazz to the second round of the NBA Playoffs by scoring 20.5 points per game.
Their run ended against the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference semis. But Mitchell and the Jazz's performance has already raised expectations off the team for the seasons to come.
In Cleveland for the NBA Finals, Mitchell took time out to talk to journalists from India about his rookie season, LeBron James and US President Donald Trump.
Excerpts from an interview:
How would you sum up your rookie season with Utah Jazz?
My rookie season went well. I think I did a lot of pretty good things, I can say I set up a good base that I can improve on. As a whole I’m really happy with what I did and what the team did as well.
Could you talk about the learning curve in the first season, where the whole team started to rely on you at a point?
It came naturally. It evolved into what it is now and my teammates were the biggest pushers for it. I'm happy to have teammates that are really behind me and propelled me to get to where I'm at today.
What is the influence that LeBron James has on players like him who have just come into the league?
It's definitely inspiring (to watch him). You definitely want to be like that, or to be the best. You know to get to that level there's a lot of hard work put into it. A man like him who has been to eight NBA Finals... there's nothing he hasn't seen before. Hopefully I'll get to that level with Utah and do big things.
Your view on LeBron, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry saying they won't visit the White House should their team win the NBA Finals..
It's a tough one. It's tough for the whole world. I think Steve Kerr said it best when he said there's a guy who is dividing the country for his own gain. That really hit home when he said that. Ours is a country whose sole purpose is to be united... United States of America. I don't think we're at that point right now. For two teams to kind of lock in and say that about the situation shows the united front we are trying to have. Whether the players are black or white, it's something that resonates with people because of their character.
Do players discuss the Trump situation in the locker rooms?
It's one of those things that you can't believe it. It sounds unreal! But it is real! I don't talk about it as much, but some of my teammates do. It's just one of those things where I feel that God works in ways where He will heal things or fix things. Sometimes, things have got to go way down, before they go back up. It's my philosophy.
Coming into the league as a rookie, which player did you look up to?
Coming into the league, I was a big LeBron fan. And Russell Westbrook too. Westbrook's more realistic for me because of how I play and our size. You know I'm not 6'8" and 260 pounds. But I like to model my game after him, Damian Lillard and Dwayne Wade.
You became a fan favourite in just your first season with Utah. What makes people like you so much?
I try to be as real as possible. I try to be relatable. I don't like to be put on this crazy pedestal. I'm just a regular guy who just happens to shoot, make shots, dunk and jump really high. I try to be as relatable as possible. I tweet and Instagram a lot, you know just to give people an insight into my life and to show them that I'm not some God. I want to show kids that you guys can do this too if you put your kind to it.
Would you like to play alongside LeBron sometime in the future?
I'd rather beat LeBron in the Finals. I'd rather beat him at a place where he has a lot of experience. I mean, who wouldn't want to play with LeBron, but between playing with him or beating him, my personal preference would be to beat him.
The writer's trip was sponsored by NBA India
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Updated Date: Jun 08, 2018 17:27:03 IST