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Why opening night for these 2 childhood friends will be a night to remember

Donovan Mitchell and Eric Paschall grew up playing basketball together in New York. Now they are Jazz teammates and they can hardly believe it

Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, left, is defended by Warriors forward Eric Paschall during game in San Francisco March 14, 2021.
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, left, is defended by Golden State Warriors forward Eric Paschall, right, during game in San Francisco, Sunday, March 14, 2021. The two childhood friends are excited to be playing on the same NBA team for the first time in their careers.
Jeff Chiu, Associated Press

Donovan Mitchell still gets just as excited about opening night as he did when he was a rookie.

The expectations, pressures and goals are different. When Mitchell was a rookie he was just hoping to get into the rotation. Obviously that worked out and he quickly became a leading scorer, a max-level player and an All-Star. Even so, opening night of the NBA regular season is special and this season it’s even more special for Mitchell.

Mitchell and Eric Paschall dreamed about playing on the same NBA team, but they knew that the chances were slim. They imagined it and hoped for it, but never really thought that it would happen.

On Wednesday night the two will run out of the tunnel at Vivint Arena for the Utah Jazz’s season opener with the same team name across their chest, realizing a dream that will be special not just for the two lifelong friends, but also for their families.

“I think my mom and his mom will probably cry for sure,” Mitchell said after practice on Monday. “We’ve been through, like literally everything together. As a group, as a family.”

Mitchell still remembers his and Paschall’s parents’ rotating schedule for driving the two to practice, the McDonald’s they would stop at off the Bronx River Parkway on the way back home while growing up in New York.

They’ve been playing NBA 2K together for well over a decade and they haven’t stopped. Though Mitchell went on to play at Louisville and Paschall at Villanova, the distance never altered their friendship and their families have remained close.

The two young NBA dreamers and their families spent countless hours and days together. When Mitchell is reminiscing about him and Paschall growing up together, he refers to him as more than a friend. They are brothers. They are family.

When the two say they didn’t think they were ever going to get a chance to play on the same NBA team together, they mean it. Mitchell had a hard time believing it was going to happen even when trade talks were getting serious between the Jazz and the Golden State Warriors.

“It’s still weird,” Mitchell said. “Seeing him every day, it just feels weird, but in a good way. It really happened. I’m happy that it did.”

Mitchell and Paschall both understand the business of the NBA and that they aren’t guaranteed time together. But, for now, so long as they are teammates, they plan to soak up every minute of being able to see their basketball careers come full circle and to experience life in the pros together.

On Wednesday, Mitchell and Paschall will lace up their sneakers and run out onto the court, as they have many times before, but this time will be particularly special and a moment they won’t ever forget.