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Donovan Mitchell mania invades Utah as Jazz rookie embraces community

MURRAY — A quarter of a mile long line wrapped around the west wing of Fashion Place Mall.

Stance Socks store manager Devin Underwood’s cell phone wouldn’t stop ringing.

All of this was the result of an appearance from arguably the most popular man in Utah, Donovan Mitchell.

Nearly 1,100 fans camped outside of the business to meet the Utah Jazz rookie. Parents were even putting their children over their shoulders just to catch a quick glimpse.

After practice on Friday, Dec. 29, Mitchell signed 500 autographs and met with local fans for nearly an hour and a half at the business, driving folks into a frenzy.

Everyone seems to want to be around the league’s highest-scoring rookie, especially in Utah. In December, Mitchell was named Western Conference Rookie of the Month.

“I didn’t expect this many people at all. It’s great to have this,” Mitchell said, smiling. “I’m in shock.

“This is awesome. It’s just great to see the support of the city and for the Jazz,” he added. “It’s a great event and glad I could give so many people hope and have fun as well.”

Longtime Jazz fan Chad Ritchie was one of the first to arrive on the scene around noon, although the event wasn’t scheduled to begin until 4 p.m. The 37-year-old account executive at Workfront tech company brought at least nine relatives, including his three children: Bailey, 16; Hadley, 3; and Killian, three months.

They couldn’t miss out on this event, where fellow Jazzman Royce O’Neale was also in attendance.

“Dude, Donovan is amazing to watch,” Ritchie said. “He is just phenomenal. We watch every Jazz game and he’s the most exciting player in the NBA. I think he should be Rookie of the Year personally.”

Mitchell signed Ritchie’s authentic gold Jazz jersey. He said he drove all over town to find one, before finally purchasing one at the team shop in Vivint arena.

“Even when I was a young kid, I stood in line for five hours to get Karl Malone’s autograph back in like 1990 in Ogden at Pro Image Sports Shop,” Ritchie said. “So, I brought my kids to do the same thing (with Donovan).”

Thirteen-year-old Carter Tripp was among the fans who stood in line. He’s still amazed by Mitchell’s soaring putback jam over the Los Angeles Lakers that made ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays in October.

Eleven-year-old Chase Edmunds brought a photo of Mitchell in the new Jazz City edition uniform to be signed.

“I’m, like, super excited,” Edmunds said. “When he was drafted I was, like, freaking out. If we didn’t have him, we would probably suck. He’s my favorite player.”

Two hours before his arrival, Stance’s executive vice president of business development Clarke Miyasaki texted Mitchell to tell him at least 130 people were in line waiting. He couldn’t believe it. The Stance store opened in Murray about seven months ago, so they brought Mitchell in as a thank you to the area for all of the sales.

“The people in Salt Lake have supported the brand so well that we kind of wanted to do a giveback,” Miyasaki said. “He’s got it. I think he was what Salt Lake needed with (Gordon) Hayward leaving and it’s just the perfect storm for him to kind of come over and take over the town.”

Mitchell’s mother, Nicole, and younger sister, Jordan, were blown away by the response. Even Jordan, a sophomore in high school, was asked to sign an autograph on a basketball.

“Just knowing him, I think it’s super crazy,” Jordan said. “Like the reactions when people see him. He’s a good role model.”

For the Mitchell family, it’s still a dream come true. Just last year, they were enjoying him in Louisville with the NBA being the furthest thing from their minds. Nicole’s been traveling and accompanying her son for a couple weeks now and still cherishes these memories.

“It’s hard to explain because he’s still my baby,” said Nicole, a preschool teacher in Connecticut.

“He’s still Donovan that I yell at every once and a while, but he’s a real good kid,” she said, laughing. “It’s pretty overwhelming but he’s happy and this is what he’s dreamed for.”

Without much of a perception of the state before being drafted, Mitchell has embraced Utah whole-heartedly. On Thursday, Dec. 28, he sat courtside for the BYU game in Provo as the Cougars beat Portland, 69-45.

He’s also been spotted at University of Utah football and basketball games. Mitchell is happy to be here and the fans are happy to have him.

“I’ve done that since I was in high school, just going different places,” Mitchell explained while signing autographs. “I’m just enjoying the city. I’ve embraced the town just because I plan on being here for a while so I just want to go everywhere.”