Unheralded Mitchell catches Rebels’ eye

There are basketball recruits who arrive on campus with big reputations and four or five stars attached to their name, and then there is DeShawn Mitchell.

The 6-foot-5-inch freshman guard was a rumor when he showed up at UNLV this summer.

“Nobody really knew who I was,” he said with a smile.

Mitchell, from Monmouth Academy in Howell, N.J., was a mystery to most recruiting analysts. He switched high schools, mostly avoided the AAU circuit and seemingly became an undercover prospect.

But he’s not flying under the radar with his new teammates. What Mitchell has displayed in the Rebels’ preseason workouts has impressed seniors Wink Adams and Rene Rougeau.

Mitchell has a standing vertical leap of 38 inches, which means he springs much higher with a running start. He also defends, rebounds and chases loose balls with rare intensity.

“He’s just like Rene. He’s real active, and he does the dirty work,” Adams said. “He’s not a player who just thinks about scoring. He’s aggressive, and he’s one of our best rebounders.

“Nobody plays like Rene. That’s what we thought. But DeShawn, he and Rene go at it.”

It sounds like a far-fetched comparison. The 6-6 Rougeau, a former walk-on who became a starter last season, is the definition of a blue-collar hustler.

“He definitely gives me a run for my money,” Rougeau said. “I like that he makes me work hard. It’s a lot of fun with him.”

But, Rougeau added, Mitchell is “still learning the game a lot.” Adams said Mitchell’s jump shot needs improving.

Mitchell, who describes himself as more of a slasher than a shooter, said he spends two to four hours a day shooting mid-range jumpers off the dribble. Only occasionally does he drift behind the 3-point line.

“I’m in the gym at least twice a day working on my shot,” Mitchell said. “I’m in there for a long time until I just can’t go anymore.”

Last fall, when Rebels coach Lon Kruger observed Mitchell during a practice, one aspect of Mitchell’s game irritated Kruger.

“Kruger came into my gym to watch DeShawn, and he jumped his ass and said, ‘If you don’t play defense any harder than that, don’t bother coming to my school,’ ” Monmouth Academy coach Mike Rodgers said after Mitchell committed to UNLV.

The message made an impression on Mitchell.

“That’s true. (Kruger) told me if I didn’t work on my defense that there was no point in coming here because I wouldn’t play,” Mitchell said. “I started playing defense. I was playing ‘D,’ but I wasn’t playing hard ‘D’ like they play here. I was hustling on offense but not on defense.”

Rodgers also compared Mitchell to NBA star Dwyane Wade because of his dunking ability.

And that, Adams said, is not a major exaggeration.

“He jumps crazy,” Adams said. “I just throw it by the basket and he always goes and gets it.

“I think his shot’s getting a lot better. Every day he’s getting better. I think he’s going to get a lot of playing time.”

Mitchell averaged 24 points and eight rebounds last season for Monmouth Academy, after spending two years on the B team at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia.

“Everybody lost who I was,” said Mitchell, who attracted late recruiting interest from schools including Kentucky, Illinois, Texas Tech and Pittsburgh.

“If I get a fast break, the people will really love that. I’m really explosive when I have the ball. That’s the reason they brought me here — to run the floor, finish on the breaks and play defense.”

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907.

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