By Greg Ostendorf
AUBURN, Ala. – It’s Monday night. Auburn had just wrapped up a long, grueling practice in preparation of its upcoming trip to Dayton, and rather than head home, Davion Mitchell and Malik Dunbar were among a handful of players who stuck around to get some extra shots in.
The two took turns shooting 3-point shots as they made their way around the arc, and it wasn’t until after 6 p.m. when they finally decided to call it a night.
If it were up to Mitchell, he would’ve stayed even longer. The freshman guard is what you’d call a gym rat. Whether it’s coming in before practice to work on his shot or staying after and competing with one of his teammates or even coming in by himself when nobody is watching, he’s constantly working on his craft.
“He’s probably our hardest worker,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “We have to run him out of the gym at night. He’s just in there all the time. He cares so much.”
Mitchell attributes that hard work, that drive, to where he grew up in Hinesville, Georgia.
The town has a population less than 34,000 people. It’s not tiny – they have a Dicks Sporting Goods, as Mitchell points out – but it’s about half the size of Auburn. And it’s not exactly known for producing a ton of basketball talent.
“I’m just trying to get my name out there,” Mitchell said. “Everybody looked over me because I was in a small town. People from Atlanta were getting all the hype because they were from a big city. From Hinesville, you really don’t get that. You have to go get that.
“That’s kind of the reason why I went to play for the Georgia Stars. My AAU team was so small, nobody would really look at us.”
Mitchell eventually got noticed. He was ranked as a top-60 recruit by just about every recruiting service and was ranked as high as No. 33 nationally by 247Sports. He received scholarship offers from all over the country, including schools like Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, SMU and a number of other schools in the Southeast.
But now that Mitchell is at Auburn, he’s having to prove himself all over again. And the college game is much faster than what he was used to playing.
“It’s been hard, especially with them trying to put weight on me,” Mitchell said. “I really don’t like lifting weights. Don’t tell Coach D (Damon Davis) that. But playing at the weight of 210, I’ve never played there before. I always played at 190 or 195. So it’s kind of hard to go up and down the floor like I used to, but I’m getting better at it.”
Through the first six games, Mitchell has scored 32 points and dished out 16 assists. He’s been in foul trouble at times, but the potential is clearly there. He’s also one of the better defenders on the team, and when Pearl wants to put pressure on opposing teams, he’ll put both Mitchell and fellow point guard Jared Harper on the court at the same time.
“Guards that can defend are valuable,” Pearl said. “I knew I’d play him and Jared on the floor together. He’s a smart player. He’s a tough kid. He’s a physical defender.”
“Every time I play on a team, I always guard the better guys,” added Mitchell. “That’s something I take pride in. I’m just trying to stop their best guy.”
It should come as no surprise that Mitchell, the player who is staying after practice to get in extra shots and the player who wants the challenge of defending the other team’s best player, was the MVP of Auburn’s summer program for his work in the classroom.
It’s not just hard work on the court. It’s hard work in everything Mitchell does.
“It just shows his personality, his desire to get better,” Pearl said. “He’s a sponge.”
Greg Ostendorf is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: