Donovan Mitchell Discusses His Path Through School and Hoops to Build with adidas and BodyArmor
CHARLOTTE -- It’s not exactly memory lane, but the stroll through the hallway at the adidas hospitality suite at the Omni Hotel still offers at least one wistful moment for Donovan Mitchell. The 22-year-old swingman for the Utah Jazz stops in front of a black-and-white photo of himself shooting a layup inside the gym at West High School, a block over from Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City.
“I remember this,” Donovan tells CloseUp360.
Not just because the photo was snapped near where Utah’s young star now holds court in the NBA, but also since West’s chief rival, East High School, was featured in Disney’s High School Musical once upon a time.
“It’s pretty dope,” he says. “Pretty special.”
That appreciation is a window into the New York native’s mind for more than just basketball. CloseUp360 spent time with Donovan over All-Star Weekend to talk about his pursuit of athletics and education, the importance of being well-rounded, his connections to Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, and more.
(The interview has been edited for clarity and length.)
Donovan Mitchell admires a photo of himself inside the adidas hospitality suite in Charlotte. (Josh Faggart)
CloseUp360: You’re from New York, but went to school in Connecticut. How did that become an option?
Donovan Mitchell: A family friend of ours recommended the school to us, and we ended up visiting and we got in. Got a basketball scholarship to Greenwich Country Day School, which is one of the best private schools, if not the best, in the country. It was a blessing to be there, and it wasn’t too far—only about 15, 20 minutes away. It wasn’t very far from New York. It was a great experience.
CU360: So at that age, that prepared you more for education than sports as a focus?
DM: That was more so middle school. I went to high school at Brewster [Academy in New Hampshire]. But I went to school in Connecticut up until the ninth grade. And then from there, I went to school in New Hampshire.
CU360: The idea of where you’re going to go to school for the program, the exposure, things like that, were you thinking of your basketball career and your journey? That’s where it starts.
DM: Yep, it does. And the biggest thing for me and my mom as well, when we decided this, the biggest thing was we wanted to make sure we had both the education piece as well as the athletics. The athletics, I didn’t think it would be this. I didn’t think of it as "I’m trying to make the NBA." It was more so "I’m just trying to get to college and have a good career in college." The NBA was always a dream, but it was never a reality for me. Fortunately, I went to one of the best prep schools as far as basketball is concerned, and academics as well. From there, it just skyrocketed.
CU360: Players who are following your path, what’s your advice to them about keeping their priorities straight?
DM: Stay well rounded, you know? Don’t put all of your eggs into one basket. Everybody has a different philosophy on that. My biggest thing is basketball comes and goes, you know. It’s not your life. I mean, it is for about max 20, 21 years maybe. Not too many guys have done that. You still have the rest of your life to live. For me, I would always be just doing other things. I’ve played the drums my whole life. I played other sports. Just expanding your horizons and learning more about life, then everything will fall into place if you let it. If you kind of focus yourself and enjoy yourself at a young age on one thing, I think that’s when you get that stress because it becomes not fun at that age.
That’s what really helped me, being able to do other things, which kept basketball about fun, and fun is what it’s supposed to be. Instead of "I have no choice, but to be a basketball player." I feel like that limits you as a person, too, if you want to be just an athlete, a basketball player. You can do more things.
Donovan put up 20 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and five steals in Team USA's 161-144 win over Team World in the 2019 Rising Stars Challenge. (Griffin Harrington)
CU360: If you’re well rounded, you can be a better basketball player. Some guys don’t realize that.
DM: Different sports definitely help you. I played soccer. That helps with your footwork. I’ve had a few baseball passes this year. There’s little things like that, that you take away from different things. I took public speaking for a while. Basketball is a sport where, in the world off the court, you need to be good at public speaking when you get invited to events and whatnot. So it definitely helps you in your career as well.
CU360: You kind of burst on the scene. So now there’s more eyes on you, defenses are certainly scouting you, the media is hyping you up more. How do you handle that juggling where you’re establishing yourself, but people expect a lot more out of you?
DM: You’ve got to stay grounded. You can’t get too high or get too low. I think the biggest thing is the media. Ignoring that—ignoring not so much the bad as ignoring the good—because you start riding the high and then when the low comes, it’s, like, "Oh, you guys just said I was this." So for me, I think it’s just continuing to be the same and consistent across whatever I do, whether it’s on or off the floor. I think that’s really helped me get to where I’ve gotten to.
Donovan connects with Brooklyn Nets All-Star D'Angelo Russell during the Rising Stars Challenge in Charlotte. (Griffin Harrington)
CU360: You mentioned off the floor. One thing that came your way was an opportunity with adidas to have your own sneaker coming out soon. How are you using that to do other things in your life?
DM: I think it gives you a platform you can use in many different ways. I think people know my name, people know my brand. So it allows me, like tonight, I’m doing the commentary with Shaq and Kenny [Smith]. I think being who I am helps me do things I’ve always wanted to do as a child. I’ve always wanted to branch out. It goes back to what I said about branching out as a kid. Being an athlete helps you get to these things that others may not have that opportunity. So for us, we’ve got to capitalize on every opportunity we get. With my brand and my shoe coming out, I think it’s going to open more doors for me to do other things as well. I think I’ve just got to take advantage of it, and I’m having a good time doing it, too.
CU360: You also have a business sense with BodyArmor, a company that Kobe Bryant helped start. He’s kind of raised the bar for what you can get involved in. So when a situation like BodyArmor comes up, how do you approach that?
DM: I think the business side, it helps them and it helps you. I think it’s an equally mutual benefit. I think that what I’ve found with BodyArmor, with New Era, with Stance, I drink water all the time, I wear hats all the time, I love Stance socks. So why not have these business deals? I think being well rounded and not just being a basketball player, having these different things, it goes along with using the platform that you have. In the years that you are playing basketball, you want to be able to expand yourself and expand your horizons and be different, be on different things.
CU360: Did you talk to Kobe at any point?
DM: I did. I talked to him not so much about BodyArmor, but about basketball. When I talked to him, he gave big tips just coming into the season and coming in from injury. And then when I signed with BodyArmor, he and I had a conversation just about "Congratulations, welcome to the team." It’s kind of surreal that he calls me. It’s still kind of a shock. Pretty much anybody else can call me and I’m okay with it. With him, it’s, like, "Whoa."
CU360: When Kobe calls, you listen.
DM: Yep, exactly.
Donovan inside the adidas hospitality suite. (Josh Faggart)
CU360: Last thing: I want to know the story of you at LeBron James’ "The Decision" press conference. How did you get involved in that and what did you learn from it?
DM: So it was right down the street from where I went to school. I guess he happened to be in New York for a wedding or whatever it may be. I was, like, "LeBron’s a great player. I’ll show up." I think I was the only person in that crowd who wasn’t a Knicks fan, who wanted him to go to Miami. It was cool. It was longer than anticipated [laughs], but it was cool, just to see him process and see him right there gather for that big decision.
Mike Botticello is a veteran multimedia producer and co-host of the No Chill Podcast with Gilbert Arenas. Follow him on Twitter.