Men's Basketball |
Jan. 30, 2009
By JOSH KATZOWITZ
Bearcats basketball coach Mick Cronin didn’t think Alvin Mitchell would be back this season. He didn’t think Mitchell could adjust, didn’t think Mitchell would be willing to make the sacrifices Cronin needed from the talented swingman. He didn’t think Mitchell was cut out to be a part of the Bearcats program.
Cronin was content to watch him leave if that was the case.
“I didn’t think he’d make it,” Cronin said. “I knew I wasn’t going to change. It’s a credit to him that he’s toughed it out because I didn’t make it easy on him. I didn’t bend over for him. What’s (the line from) that movie — the saddest thing in life is wasted talent? Unfortunately, in my profession, you see it all too much. We talk a lot to our team about how their attitude and work ethic is going to decide who you become as a player. Or who you do not become as a player. Those are things you can control.”
Last February, Cronin determined Mitchell couldn’t control it. So he suspended him from the team for violating team rules. Cronin said in his initial statement that he was leaving open the possibility for Mitchell to return to the team but also explained he had standards and expectations for the players on his squad.
Mitchell, Cronin said, wasn’t meeting those expectations.
Thus began a tough six months for the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native, who entered UC as Florida’s Class 4A player of the year as a high school senior and a guy who averaged 33 points and 6.2 assists per game. Yet, he left temporarily as a problem child.
“It was tough,” said Mitchell, who averaged 2.8 points and 1.3 rebounds last year before Cronin kicked him out of the program. “I couldn’t be around the team. I couldn’t come into the locker room. I had to get my own tickets for the games. I wasn’t around. That’s the only thing I love to do with my spare time. It’s what I do for fun, and it got taken away because I was arrogant and young and free-minded. I guess I was careless.”
Last season, problems arose during practice. Mitchell, an immature freshman who was used to getting his way on a basketball court, didn’t give the kind of effort Cronin wanted.
“We knew he had talent and could make shots,” junior guard Deonta Vaughn said. “He just didn’t have the trust in anybody. Alvin is more competitive in practice now. The more you practice, the better you get. Last year, Alvin was trying to get out of every other drill because he was tired and stuff. He learned how to fight through it. He’s seen when you fight through it, you get better.”
It took a while, though, to sink in with Mitchell.
“It’s because of the way I was in high school,” Mitchell said. “I was able to do my own thing. On the court, if I didn’t want to run the plays, I never ran the plays. I just played. It was different coming to a structured situation. It was mostly rebellion. I kind of wanted to do the things I did in high school, but it wasn’t my time yet. I had to wait. I had guys in front of me that were better than me.”
Soon, nobody was in front of him, because he no longer was on the team. And it’s not like the suspension was for a limited time, a tiny slap on the wrist before he was welcomed back with open arms. No, this went on through the summer, and even as Mitchell played in the Deveroes Summer League, he still didn’t know if he’d return to the Bearcats program.
“I had to change my attitude,” Mitchell said. “A lot of little things like body language and just becoming a better person all around. I changed my personality a lot. You have to humble yourself and accept things that other people have to say and not have it be predetermined in your own mind. Even coming back for summer school, it was a gamble.”
It’s not that he didn’t think about transferring away to another school and another program. He did. Get a fresh start somewhere else. He could have transferred to a Division II school and played immediately. He, like in high school, probably could have dominated the action on the court and returned to his old mentality — do whatever he wants whenever he wants.
He thought about it, but ultimately, he decided to take the rockier, less sure path.
“It was all a gamble,” Mitchell said. “I didn’t know if I would play another game as a Bearcat or not. It depended on how I acted and my attitude and how bad I wanted it. Transferring was always the easiest alternative, and it was the easiest thing to fall back on. Just leave and say forget about it. But sometimes the easy way is not worth it.
“I want to make a home for myself and a name for myself. I bounced around a little bit in high school, and even though I played every year, it’s not as fun as being stable and having your teammates for four years.”
Since he’s returned, Mitchell has been a different player for the Bearcats and a different person in general. Especially in practice.
“It’s all preparation,” Cronin said. “It’s not talent and ability. Alvin struggled in a lot of ways last year, on the court, off the court, preparation, practice. The difference is he’s been our most consistent performer in practice and our hardest working guy in practice, for the most part. It’s translated over into the game.”
Although he didn’t have much of an impact in UC’s season-opener against South Dakota, he broke out against Texas Southern in the next contest. He nailed four of seven three-point attempts and finished with 15 points in 22 minutes. In the next game, a 74-46 pounding of Western Illinois, he swished four of five long-range shots and recorded 19 points in a team-high 26 minutes of action.
Last season, he shot 22.3 percent from behind the three-point line. This year, he’s closer to 50 percent.
“His shooting has been big for us,” Cronin said. “If people asked me going into the year what was going to be for key for us, I would have said that Cashmere (Wright) was going to have to have a good year at the point (guard spot), but he’s gone (with an injury). The other one was somebody besides Deonta was going to have to make some shots. Last year, toward the end of the year when Alvin was suspended and Marvin (Gentry) was hurt, we really struggled because we couldn’t make any shots. You have to be able to shoot the ball. His shooting has really opened things up for our interior guys.”
Said Mitchell: “I just think I’m more ready to play now. I got all the bugs out. I don’t have the bugs and jitters. I just want to play now and have fun and try to compete and win. I’m still progressing. It’s getting better. I’ve come a long way and I expect to keep going.”
As does Cronin. And if Mitchell continues on this path, Cronin expects great things out of him.
“He’s worked hard to get himself where he’s at,” Cronin said. “Hopefully he can keep heading in the right direction. You see what he’s doing early in his sophomore year, and if he can work as hard as he’s worked on his game, you can imagine the type of player he can end up being here. He could have a wonderful career if he stays on the right path.”
(This article was previously printed in the Bearcat Sports Digest)