Bucks add intriguing athlete with signing of Mitchell to 10-day deal
ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — Startled by his cell phone while trying to get some sleep before a road trip, Tony Mitchell thought his assistant coach was trying to play a prank on him.
The newest member of the Milwaukee Bucks thought there was no way he was actually headed to the NBA.
"I was like, ‘OK man, you can stop playing. I’m trying to get some sleep, you can stop playing,’" Mitchell said.
Mitchell soon realized the call was real. The 6-foot-6 forward officially signed a 10-day contract with the Bucks on Tuesday to fill the roster void opened when the team bought out Caron Butler last week.
"It kind of came out of the blue," Mitchell said. "It’s good, though. It gives me a chance to show what I can do at this level. I’m happy to be here and get started."
The 24-year-old has spent the majority of the last two seasons playing for Fort Wayne of the NBA’s Developmental League.
Mitchell was named the D-League’s Rookie of the Year in 2013 and is averaging 19.4 points and 5.3 rebounds in 21 games this season for the Mad Ants.
Bucks coach Larry Drew got a first-hand look at Mitchell during the NBA’s All-Star break, as he flew to Fort Wayne to see his son play for Sioux Falls. Larry Drew III scored 16 points, but Mitchell led the Mad Ants to a victory with 27 points and six rebounds.
"We’re in a position where we can look at some of these guys on 10-day contracts," Drew said. "He’s a guy that fits the type of player that we will be looking for when we talk about the future. He’s a tremendously athletic kid. When he was down at Alabama, it was known that this kid had tremendous athleticism and still does."
Mitchell played for the Crimson Tide from 2009-2012, but his collegiate career ended on a sour note. Averaging 13.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game during his junior year, Mitchell was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team in February of 2012. He was later dismissed from the Alabama program and didn’t return for his senior year.
He decided to forgo his senior season and went undrafted, joining Fort Wayne after playing with Sacramento in the 2012 summer league.
"There are a lot of college kids that make mistakes at some point in their college career," Drew said. "Unfortunately some of them have to take certain routes to get here. I knew of the incident in Alabama. I’m sure where he is right now mentally, I’m sure he’s in a different place. The kid is talented. He’s very athletic."
Mitchell believes his experience playing in the D-League helped him both as a player and a person. He credited former Fort Wayne coach and current Grizzlies assistant coach Duane Ticknor for aiding in his growth.
"It helped me work on my game," Mitchell said. "I was able to better myself and work on other parts of my game instead of just being a scorer down there or just a slasher. I worked on passing, ball handling. It’s been great."
Drew wasn’t quite sure where Mitchell will fit into the mix with the Bucks, as Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo have been filling the minutes at small forward. Mitchell has to learn Milwaukee’s playbook in a short amount of time, as there isn’t much time to adjust on a 10-day contract.
"I certainly would like to get him in and get a good evaluation of him," Drew said. "The evaluation probably won’t be a true evaluation of who this kid is and what he’s capable of, but that’s how these 10-day contracts are."
Mitchell isn’t thinking about the temporary nature of playing on a 10-day contract, focusing on the bigger picture instead.
"I just have to come in and do what I do and take care of business," Mitchell said. "They brought me in, so they saw something in me. I just have to play my game and showcase my talent."
Follow Andrew Gruman on Twitter