Utah’s Donovan Mitchell brings out his inner Dr. Dunkenstein

Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell beat Larry Nance Jr. to win the Verizon Slam Dunk contest that was part of the 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman for News4usonline

LOS ANGELES, CA-Donovan Mitchell is a man on fire. At the very least he’s playing like one. The Utah Jazz rookie leads his team in scoring. He recently dropped a 40-point barrage on the Phoenix Suns. During Utah’s current 11-game win streak, the longest in the NBA, Mitchell has led the Jazz in scoring in five of those contests.

Then comes the 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend, and Mitchell goes out and shows off some more by playing in the Rising Stars Challenge game and participating in the Verizon Slam Dunk contest. After the Rising Stars Challenge, Mitchell seems to be humbled by his fast-rising success thus far in the NBA.

“I tell people all the time this wasn’t my plan after two years of college,” Mitchell said. “Being here for All-Star, even being in the NBA, wasn’t entirely in my plan. So, I’m just taking it one step at a time, one day at a time, and praising God for this opportunity He’s given me. If I just continue to be humble and continue to learn.”

Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell holds up the trophy after winning the 2018 Verizon Slam Dunk contest at Staples Center on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

Mitchell went on to say “that’s the biggest thing; just learning and understanding the game. I make the joke that it’s easy to study film and watch all the games when you don’t have five classes to study for throughout the day. So, it’s just been fun and I’m taking it day by day.”

The 13th overall selection in the 2017 NBA Draft, Mitchell is leading the way for Utah’s recent resurgence, averaging 19.6 points per game for the Jazz. During Utah’s roll of victories, the Jazz has beaten the San Antonio Spurs twice, handed the Golden State Warriors a blowout defeat, and dealt losses to the Toronto Raptors (No. 1 Eastern Conference seed) and New Orleans Pelicans along the way.

Mitchell scored 26 points in Utah’s 97-93 win against the Raptors and poured in 40 in the Jazz’s 129-97 victory against the Suns. In Utah’s last three games before the All-Star break, Mitchell scored 25, 27 and 25 points, respectively, in wins against the Charlotte Hornets, Portland Trail Blazers and Spurs. Mitchell said he’s just trying to soak everything in right now.

“This whole thing has been a whirlwind for me,” said Mitchell. “Just enjoying the process. And there are games that I’m like, wow, this happened, or wow, that happened. It’s a credit to my teammates and the coaching staff and organization for believing in me. Without them none of this would be possible. So, I really thank them for giving me this opportunity.”

Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell leads his team in scoring and is averaging 19.6 points a game this season. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman for News4usonline

Mitchell should thrive even more during the second half of the season for Utah now that swingman Rodney Hood and small forward Joe Johnson have been traded away. For now, though, Mitchell is content to live in the moment. Outside of the NBA Finals, there is no bigger moment in the league than at All-Star break. Mitchell, subbing for the injured Aaron Gordon in the Verizon Slam Dunk contest, made the best of his showcase appearance by going out and shutting the event down with his homage paid to legendary flyer Vince Carter on the last dunk of the night.

His final dunk attempt earned him the contest’s winning trophy.

“Growing up I was a big dunker,” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t really much of a basketball player. I just dunked and played defense, and I watched a lot of Vince’s videos. I’ve been seeing what he’s been doing all year at his age, which is incredible. So, I figured, you know, at my size if I was able to get it, it would be a great dunk and a way to finish it, you know.

“And actually, funny story is I haven’t made that dunk in like half a year. I tried it in practice the past two days and tried it this morning, didn’t make it. Tried it last night, didn’t make it. So, to be able — or two nights ago, excuse me. But to be able to make it was why I was so excited.”

Carter, who now plays for the Sacramento Kings, was not the only iconic riser that Mitchell acknowledged. He also paid tribute to Michael Jordan, Gerald Green, Dominique Wilkins and Darrell “Dr. Dunkenstein” Griffith, who played his entire career with Utah. Griffith also starred at Louisville, Mitchell’s college home. Mitchell said in order to pull off what he did was simply following the traces of who came before him.

“You know, just knowing your history, I think, is the biggest thing,” said Mitchell. “Just understanding where this game originated, I guess the OGs of the game, I guess you would call it. But just understanding, even if it’s just dunking, whether it’s dunking in the NBA in general. Darrell Griffith, we went to the same school in college. I know Darrell very well. Both got drafted by the Jazz, and he was an incredible player. To be able to pay homage to him meant a lot to me.”

Dennis J. Freeman
About Dennis J. Freeman 1227 Articles
Dennis is a longtime sports, news and entertainment photojournalist. Dennis has covered and written on subjects such as civil rights, politics, and social justice. His work has appeared in various publications across the country. As editor and publisher of News4usonline, he currently covers the NFL (Rams, Chargers), NBA (Clippers, Lakers), Major League Baseball (Dodgers) and NCAA sports (USC, UCLA, Long Beach State). Dennis is a proud alum of Howard University.