Over the past few days, Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell has made an appearance at the team’s predraft workouts at Zions Bank Basketball Campus, where college prospects from around the country have tried to make a good impression on the staff of a team that made it to the second round of the playoffs, led by Mitchell.
Sunday, May 27, marked the one-year anniversary of Mitchell being in the exact same situation as these draft hopefuls, as he came to Salt Lake City for a workout looking, in part, for further confirmation that he was good enough to be in the NBA.
In the last year, some details that were initially kept quiet about how much Mitchell impressed the Jazz in his workout have emerged, but there’s more to the story of what some are now calling Donovan Mitchell Day in Utah.
May 24 and May 26 are important dates in setting up May 27, 2017. On the 24th, Rod Beard of the Detroit Free-Press reported that the Jazz had made a promise to Michigan forward DJ Wilson that they’d draft him if he was available when they were going to pick in the June draft (Utah owned the 24th and 30th picks of the first round).
On the 26th, the Jazz announced that they’d be holding a workout the next day, with Mitchell part of the six-player group that was to be present. It was a strong group that also included National Player of the Year Frank Mason (Kansas), Villanova star Josh Hart, Duke’s Amile Jefferson, Virginia’s London Perrantes and Florida’s Devin Robinson.
Mitchell’s presence was notable since, as has been oft-told over the last year, he was projected to be a lottery pick, and first-round prospects typically only work out for teams that will pick in their projected range, not 10-15 spots below like Utah.
Even so, the story behind the supposed promise to Wilson was a big topic as the media met with Jazz vice president of player personnel Walt Perrin after the workout (media are encouraged to arrive at the Zions Bank Basketball Campus a good amount of time before workouts are supposed to end but are not permitted to view them).
“Did not happen,” Perrin said of the reported promise to Wilson, who wound up getting chosen 17th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks. “Did not happen at all.”
Beside Perrin, the media present spoke with a few other players before it was Mitchell’s turn. As has been the case countless times over the last year, the guard out of Louisville by way of New York was extremely articulate, patient and sincere. Numerous reporters commented about how much Mitchell’s interview impressed them, but in the same thought there was the recognition that he’d be off the draft board before Utah was set to pick at No. 24.
Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey has, over the last year, acknowledged that he told those who saw Mitchell’s workout to not say anything about how good it really was, although Perrin said recently that the edict hadn’t come down by the time he met with the media after the workout.
In any event, Perrin didn’t say too much about Mitchell’s workout, commenting, "His was good. It was good. They all were really good today. They all were. I can't say enough about the players' character and they all came in in really good shape. They all were helping each other out. A lot of communications in this workout, and the effort was outstanding."
Utah held more workouts over the next few weeks before the draft, and then of course made the draft-night trade that sent Trey Lyles and the rights to the 24th pick (Syracuse forward Tyler Lydon) to the Denver Nuggets for the draft rights to Mitchell.
Now as one of the Jazz’s franchise cornerstones following a season in which he became a Rookie of the Year candidate and led Utah in the playoffs, Mitchell in a sense capped the year with a piece published Tuesday in The Players’ Tribune.
“It’s crazy to me that only a year ago, I was still deciding whether to even be in the NBA at all — whether to stay in school or to enter the draft,” Mitchell wrote. “And I made the best decision of my life, no doubt. One, because I had a rookie year I can be proud of. Two, because, man … I just love this league. But maybe most of all, I know I made the right decision because I ended up where I belong.
Playing for this team, for this city.”