OGDEN – When the Hunter defense began to unravel the Syracuse offense in the third quarter of Monday’s first-round playoff game, coach Justin Nelson put the basketball into senior Diante Mitchell’s hands.
“They were coming back on us, and we were a little frazzled,” said Nelson after Syracuse defeated Hunter 53-36 to advance to Wednesday’s quarterfinal. “And we got the ball in his hands, and trusted him to make a play. With him, one of the great things about him is that it’s not always about scoring.”
In fact, Nelson didn’t think Mitchell, who averages nearly 20 points per game, didn’t shoot the ball particularly well in Monday afternoon’s game at the Dee Event’s Center. Mitchell, in fact, finished with 21 points, with 15 of those coming at the freethrow line.
“But he got to the foul line, made extra passes, and he made plays,” Nelson said. “He does so many great things – rebounds the ball, plays defense and what he does is contagious with the rest of the group. His energy, his focus and his desire.”
Mitchell’s father played college football at Weber, but the senior hopes to play college basketball. The two-sport athlete said he prefers to provide leadership by working hard.
“I like to be a leader by my actions,” he said. “Go out, play hard, stuff like that, and that’s how I feel I’m effective.”
His teammates find him to be inspiring.
“He’s such an example on the court, off the court, and every way you can think of,” said senior Daulton Whatcott, who scored 13 points, including two 3-point shots. “I look up to him…He leads by example. We feel comfortable around him.”
Whatcott said the Titans wouldn’t be celebrating their first-round tournament win without him.
“He’s our star player, and we kind of feed off of him when we play,” Whatcott said. “He kind of gives me confidence, just a lot of different ways. I’ve learned so many things from him.”
Whatcott said Mitchell is one of those who encourages him to shoot from the outside. Nelson is as impressed with Mitchell’s accomplishments off the court as he is with what he can do on the court.
“He’s a special kid,” said Nelson. “Not just a grea player but a great kid. He’s getting a 3.96 GPA, he’s the peitome of a leader, the kids respect him, he and I have a great relationship. You just don’t get to coach a kid like him every year.”