It’s easy to mistake Donovan Mitchell for a superhero.
His arms are freakishly long. His leap is astonishingly high. And he already has an alias, “Spida,” given to him by a teammate’s dad when he was younger.
That package of skills even got him into a commercial for the movie “Spiderman: Far From Home” in July, but Mitchell is trying to be more like Captain America this week in Las Vegas. He wants to become a leader for Team USA before his third NBA season with the Utah Jazz and that starts at camp this week at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center.
“Obviously I’m going to do my best to make the team but for me, I’m just enjoying the fact that I’m here,” Mitchell said. “Most of my life I didn’t get a chance to be in this position so now that I’m here I want to make the most of it, compete every day and enjoy every day playing with some of the best players in the world.”
Mitchell’s special abilities have been on display since the moment he entered the league as the 13th overall pick in 2017. The 22-year-old ex-Louisville standout is 6-foot-3 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, and his length makes him a force attacking the basket.
He led the Jazz in scoring each of his first two seasons and took the team to the playoffs both years. That was enough to get the attention of the national team, and suddenly he seems poised for a large role as the U.S. looks to win a third straight FIBA World Cup.
“I love Donovan’s game, man,” Boston Celtics point guard Kemba Walker said. “From Day 1 when he stepped into this league, he killed it. He’s continuing to kill it so I’m happy for him. He’s a hard worker. That’s really all that matters. When you work hard, great things come to you.”
Mitchell is now working hard to impact Team USA in whatever way he can. He’s vocal on the bench, he’s picking his veteran teammates’ brains and he’s even cracking jokes in down moments (Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo was reminded Tuesday his Kentucky Wildcats lost to Mitchell’s Cardinals in 2016).
It’s made it easy for teammates to follow him, especially since he’s expected to play some point guard for the team.
“He’s doing a hell of a job, man,” Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner said. “He’s doing a very good job taking a leadership role.”
Mitchell’s many talents have been on display on the court as well. Coach Gregg Popovich wants Mitchell to not just be a scorer but to “affect everybody else’s game.” He did that in a scrimmage Wednesday by scoring eight points, dishing out two assists, blocking one shot and recording one steal in just 4:40.
“Offensively I know what I can do but defensively I can really ramp it up a little bit,” Mitchell said. “And that’s really what I take pride in. Being a leader, coming in, communicating, talking to guys. Getting guys ready to go.”
Mitchell hopes sharpening his non-scoring skills will help him push not only the U.S. but the Jazz to success this season. He wants to lead by example and provide positive energy.
After all, isn’t that what heroes are for?
“This year it’s all about finding ways to get better,” Mitchell said. “(I want to) find a way to improve at every level and now I have a head start.”
Donovan Mitchell file
— Age: 22
— Hometown: Elmsford, New York
— Position: G
— Ht./Wt.: 6-3/215
— NBA team: Utah Jazz
— 2018-19 stats: 23.8 points per game, 4.1 rebounds per game, 4.2 assists per game