Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Viva J-Mitch!

Quite possibly the most underrated player in college basketball last year, former Rutgers star Jonathan Mitchell finally gets his chance to play at next level as he signs with CB Tarragona of Spain. (Photo courtesy of ScarletKnights.com)

If you're a frequent visitor to this site, you know how highly I've written about Jonathan Mitchell over his two years at Rutgers after transferring from Florida, where he won a national championship as a true freshman. After an underrated tenure in Piscataway where he consistently improved on a nightly basis while also making his teammates around him better, it was not inconceivable to think Mitchell could be a second-round pick in the NBA draft. However, despite a positive workout with the New Jersey Nets, sixty names were called this past June; and the talented lefty swingman was unfortunately not among them. Never one to give up, the man known around the greater New York City area as "J-Mitch" soldiered on in the attempt of catching on with a team overseas; and two days ago, the dream officially came true.

Mitchell was officially announced in a press release Monday as the newest member of CB Tarragona, a professional team that plays in the Gold division of the Spanish Basketball League. The 6-7 Mitchell becomes the third player from the three local Big East schools to sign a professional contract, joining Paris Horne and Dwight Hardy of St. John's in the overseas ranks after the starting backcourt for Steve Lavin took their talents to Germany and Italy, respectively, after leading the Johnnies to their first NCAA Tournament since 2002.

Mitchell has drawn praise from coaches, teammates, opposing players, fans and media since his days at Mount Vernon High School in Westchester, where he won a state championship and the New York State Player of the Year award under coach Bob Cimmino in 2006 before being recruited to Gainesville by Billy Donovan. Unfortunately among the odd men out in a deep Gators rotation, Mitchell decided to play closer to home when he transferred to Rutgers in 2008. One year later, he became a viable second scoring option for then-coach Fred Hill behind former McDonald's All-American Mike Rosario; who, ironically enough, ended up transferring to Florida this past season and will be eligible to return to the court this year. Mitchell averaged nearly twelve points and just over six rebounds per contest in his junior season while shooting a team-high 89 percent from the free throw line for the Scarlet Knights. The following year, he became the focal point of a scrappy young team that overachieved dramatically, given the fact that incoming head man Mike Rice was walking onto the banks of the old Raritan with very little left in the cupboard following the departures of Rosario, Pat Jackson, and Greg Echenique, who had transferred to Creighton midway through what turned out to be Hill's final campaign in Piscataway.

Averaging 14.4 points per game, Mitchell shot 39 percent from three-point range; and became a campus hero when his four-point play with less than a second left in regulation pushed Rutgers past then-No. 10 Villanova in front of a sellout crowd at the RAC. Mitchell also did many things that didn't show up in the box score every night, further cementing his status as a guy who not only became better at doing a little bit of everything each night; but also one who would never be forgotten anytime soon.

Mitchell is currently en route to Spain as I write this, and on behalf of Rutgers fans, Daly Dose fans, and college basketball fans across the metropolitan area and country, I wish him nothing but the best as he takes the first step toward what should be a long and successful professional career; one that will hopefully culminate in the NBA.

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