COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The top freshmen basketball scorers in the nation both play for Ohio State — just on different teams.
Kelsey Mitchell and D’Angelo Russell are fast friends who have gotten off to fast starts for the Buckeyes.
"She’s probably one of my best friends," said Russell, a 6-foot-5 point guard averaging 19.1 points, 5.5 assists and 5.8 rebounds a game to leap into the conversation for men’s national player of the year. "It’s just crazy to know that the same thing that I’m doing, she’s doing."
Mitchell, a left-hander (just like Russell) who is averaging 24.9 points, 4.1 assists and 4.2 rebounds a game for Ohio State’s women, said the two point guards come to each other’s games and trade texts in between.
"It’s weird, the relationship," she said, smiling. "I can’t even describe it. We don’t even talk about accolades, points, what I did or what he did. It’s `I need to work on this.’ It’s always stuff like that."
Mitchell grew up in Cincinnati, Russell in Louisville, Kentucky. They’ve known each other for quite a while and have grown closer since both decided to come to Ohio State.
Both have led flawed teams to potential NCAA tournament bids. The Ohio State men (19-7), lacking a presence in the post, play at Michigan on Saturday. The women (18-9), with just eight scholarship players, host No. 13 Iowa on Saturday.
Looming over both Russell and Mitchell is the fact that their friendship may rely on long-distance communication very soon.
Russell is considered a top-five pick by many NBA experts and mock-draft gurus. Some have him going as high as No. 1 overall.
"Somebody texted me after the game the other night and said, `(Russell) is pretty good,’" coach Thad Matta said. "I said, `Can you imagine what he’s going to be like when he’s a senior?’"
Then he laughed a knowing laugh.
Mitchell said Russell’s decision has never come up in their conversations.
"That’s something I’ve never asked before, something I’ll never ask. That’s his business," she said. "Whatever he decides, I’m all for it. I think he knows what he wants to do. If it’s staying here, yay. If not, yay, too."
Russell has been terrific from the outset of the season — and has improved.
"Personally, I feel like it’s scary for my opponents because I feel like I get better every game," said Russell, who unlike many freshmen prefers to slow the pace and ponder his next move. "In every practice and every game I learn something that I didn’t know."
It’s difficult to pick out his best game so far. Maybe 33 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists at Northwestern? His 27 points and 14 rebounds at Iowa? Or the 23-11-11 he put up for the first Big Ten triple-double by a Buckeye, against Rutgers?
No wonder Michigan State coach Tom Izzo joked last week that he intended to play a box-and-one against the Buckeyes — with the box concentrating solely on Russell.
The 5-8 Mitchell loves to run the floor and never seems to slow down. She’s scored 20 or more points in 20 of Ohio State’s 27 games this year.
A candidate for the Naismith Trophy as the nation’s top player, Mitchell led Princeton High School to the Ohio state title last March. She went for 21 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists in a December win over Pittsburgh, and stands second in the nation in scoring, trailing only Wagner’s Jasmine Nwajei (25.2 ppg).
Maybe the biggest thing the two Buckeyes have in common is the ability to take over a game and make their teammates even better.
"They’re both basketball junkies," Ohio State women’s coach Kevin McGuff said. "It is unique."