Updated: Jul 9, 2020
In today’s basketball world, versatility is the name of the game. Size, athleticism and length can take you a long way, but work ethic, skill, and basketball IQ are prerequisites at the highest levels. Enter Mark Mitchell, Jr. The Kansas City native is a picture of versatility on the basketball court. Blessed with superb jumping ability, as exhibited by his back-to-back long jump national championships in middle school, the sky is the limit for Mitchell. Bill Self and the Kansas staff clearly believe in his abilities, as they were one of the first schools to offer a scholarship to the 2020 Kansas Sophomore of the Year.
A huge Kobe Bryant fan, Mitchell shared with Pro Insight his desire to emulate the effect that Kobe had on so many, and he knows that grit and determination are essential to the Mamba Mentality. Mitchell thrives in the open floor and loves attacking the basket in a variety of ways. At 6’8” Mitchell possesses the body type to earn his keep as a small forward, with the ability to slide up to power forward, as well. He’s shown steady improvement each year, and is eager to continue to show what he’s capable of during his junior and senior seasons at Bishop Miege.
A top-tier player in the class of 2022, Mitchell clearly has a bright future ahead of him. In this interview, he enlightens the audience on his family and their connection to the military and music, his deep affinity for Kobe, his strengths and weaknesses on the court, and much more.
For the next installment of the Pro Insight Q&A series, we present 2022 prospect Mark Mitchell, Jr., from Kansas City:
Pro Insight: Tell us about your background and your story. Where were you born? Where did you grow up?
Mark Mitchell: I’ve lived in Kansas City my whole life. I live in Leavenworth County now, which is a suburb in Kansas City. I had lived in Lansing since I was four. My mom is from North Carolina. My dad is from here. He’s been here his whole life. My mom came here through the military. My dad was in the military, too, so that’s how they met. They decided that once they got stationed back here, they wanted to stay.
PI: What were your parents’ roles in the military?
MM: My mom works with child development in Fort Leavenworth; my dad was in the Army but retired before I was born.
PI: Tell us a little bit more about your family. Do you have any siblings or family members that play (or played) sports?
MM: I have two sisters and two brothers. One of my brothers, Brandon, is a professional dancer and choreographer. My other brother played D1 football at Appalachian State. I also have a 17-year-old sister who’s about to graduate. She dances, too. My other sister is a nanny for some big time people.
PI: What kind of dancing does Brandon do? Does he live in Los Angeles?
MM: He’s lived in Los Angeles for 10 years now. He’s 33. He choreographed Khalid’s tour, last summer. He’s worked with and gone on tour with Miley Cyrus, Alicia Keys, and a lot of other big time people.
PI: Does dancing run in the family?
MM: I have a pretty good rhythm but I don’t really dance. It’s a staple of our family, I’d say.
PI: Did you play any other sports growing up?
MM: I grew up playing everything, or at least trying it. The only sport I didn’t try was baseball. I was a big time track guy. I ran track through eighth grade, but had to stop because of the conflict with high school basketball and AAU scheduling. I won the Junior Olympics twice in Long Jump when I was 12 and 13. It was a big part of my life.
PI: Which family member are you closest to?
MM: Probably my dad, mom and my sister, just because they all live in the house with me. I do talk to my brother a lot, too.
PI: Congratulations on winning Kansas Sophomore of the Year. What does it mean to you to be recognized with awards like that?
MM: It’s an honor. I’m not too big on things like that. It’s an honor to be recognized for the things I did this season and the work I put in, though.
PI: Walk us through this past high school season.
MM: Our team was a lot different this year. Our school has had a lot of good teams over the years. We were pretty good, too, but I don’t know if we were the level of other teams. We will be next year. We were more guard-oriented, this year. I was really the biggest one and I don’t play inside. It was different for all of us, especially for the ones who were there last year. We had two new guys who came in. One was a freshman and then one of my good friends transferred and came and played with us. It was a lot of fun. It was probably the most fun I’ve had playing basketball because we were 18-4 and really should have only lost one game. It was a fun season. We kept fighting through every team and beat some teams we probably shouldn’t have. We really fought and we were very close as a team, which I think helped us on the court when the going got tough.
PI: Describe your game. What are your strengths?
MM: Getting to the basket in any way is my number one strength. I do a little bit of everything on the court. I can obviously play multiple positions because of my size. Getting to the basket, rebounding, pushing, passing, playing defense, and things like that.
PI: Where are your biggest areas of improvement?
MM: I think my shooting is one. I’ve definitely gotten a lot better, even since the end of the season. That’s something I need to keep improving on. If I can get that down, I think the sky's the limit and I can go as far as I want to in the game. I think that’s my only weakness, but also getting stronger. I think that will come with time.
PI: What are you doing to work on those areas?
MM: Trying to shoot as much as I can and pay attention to the little details in my shot. I’m more of a streaky type guy. I’ll be on, but once I get off, I’ll get really off. Just trying to be more consistent with my jump shot.
PI: Are you in the weight room a lot?
MM: Right now it’s been a hassle, but I’ve been doing a lot of things with body weight. I have a couple weights at home, but not much. I wasn’t able to go to the gym for a long time but I’ve been working on my body.
PI: What’s the most underrated part of your game?
MM: I think it’s passing. I think I’m a really good passer. I make some good passes but that isn’t something that people talk about.
PI: How much have you grown in the last few years? Did it come gradually or was there a spurt?
MM: I grew gradually. I was always tall. I was probably 6’5” at the beginning of high school and I’m probably 6’7” or 6’8” now. I don’t think I ever grew really fast at one time. Just more gradual.
PI: Would you say you rely more on your natural talent or your work ethic?
MM: I think it’s both. I work really hard at what I do, but obviously the natural talent, the gifts I have athletically, and my body are going to be superior to other kids. I think it’s a mixture of both.
PI: What has your training regiment been like during quarantine and how has it changed as restrictions are lifted?
MM: Restrictions have mostly been lifted, but not all the gyms are open. There’s a couple gyms you can get into if you know somebody. It varies. Usually I will go to the park and work out every day for like two hours. Trying to find someone to play against is also hard, too. You can workout as much as you want, but you have to play one-on-one against somebody. I usually do a body workout everyday since there’s nothing else to do: squats, pushups, a lot of dips and crunches. I try to find different abs stuff to do. Arms are kind of limited because there’s only so much you can do. With legs I do one-legged squats, squats, calf raises, and things like that.
PI: Walk us through your experience on the Under Armour circuit, so far.
MM: I didn’t really get to play summer ball last year because I had a minor knee surgery and the timing of it wasn’t great. I played in July, but I didn’t get to play in April last spring. I’ve been playing with Under Armour since eighth grade. It’s been pretty good, getting to go to Curry Camp, IMG Camp, and things like that. They’re really taking care of me and I like it over here.
PI: What are your expectations and goals going forward?
MM: Just to get better. I really want to win, too. I haven’t gotten to play much AAU in high school since I didn’t get to play last year and this year got canceled. I want to prove to people what I can do. I feel like people know me and know who I am, but they haven’t really seen much. I really want to do that.
PI: In your opinion, who are the best five players on the UA circuit?
MM: Jaden Bradley, Jarace Walker, me, and Gradey Dick from my class. I don’t know everyone that’s a sophomore. Total, I’ll go with Max Christie, Jarace Walker, Jaden Bradley, me, and Tamar Bates, my teammate.
PI: What have you learned from your experience at the USA Basketball camps you’ve attended?
MM: It’s been a good experience every time I go. I think it helps you learn how to play with other good players, because you really don’t have a choice. It’s a little different because you’re not always the guy like you are in your AAU and high school teams. You have to learn how to maneuver and do your things while also blending in with other people and their abilities. It’s a good learning experience. Also connecting with people...there’s some pretty high-up people in the ranks of basketball there and getting to talk with them and connect with them is a great pleasure.
PI: Hardest player you’ve ever had to guard?
MM: Evan Mobley was one. He was killing us. We had to play him at USA Basketball in the championship. He was pretty good.
PI: If you were going to do anything other than basketball for a career, what would it be?
MM: I wish I could make music, but that’s not real. That would be my second dream job if I could, but I’m not really that invested into that. Maybe something in business. Maybe trying to find something in that career path with something I want to do.
PI: Where are you at in your recruitment currently?
MM: Mine is pretty quiet. KU offered me. Milwaukee offered me in like eighth grade. Those are the only two I have. I’ve talked to UNC and some other schools as well, but pretty quiet, to be honest. My recruitment is 100% open.
PI: Would you say you have a dream school or a program you’ve always been a fan of?
MM: I did when I was younger. It was probably Kentucky, just because they had all those guys there back when they had guys like John Wall, Anthony Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist, Bledsoe, Cousins. They had the guys over there. I don’t have a dream school, anymore. I just want the best fit as I’ve matured and understand the process more. It used to be Kentucky.
PI: What are your thoughts on the recent high school-to-G-League trend?
MM: I kind of want to see what happens with it. I think it’ll be a better opportunity for some people. Going to college will be in some people’s favor also. I don’t think Zion Williamson would be Zion Williamson right now if he didn’t go to Duke. I think there’s some pros and cons. I think it’s a pretty cool thing that’s starting out and I just want to see where it goes.
PI: What number do you wear and why?
MM: I wear number 25 because Jordan wore 23, Kobe wore 24, so I thought I’d wear 25. If I make it to the NBA, play and get to the level of stardom I want to, it’d be another staple.
PI: What do you love most about the game of basketball?
MM: I love the process. I can’t even explain it. I just love playing, the competitiveness, getting better, and seeing myself get better. The adrenaline rush and everything that comes with it.
PI: Do you model your game after anyone in particular?
MM: I don’t model my game after Kobe, but that was my guy growing up. I loved seeing how Kobe played with so much passion, captivated fans and people over the world, and seeing his grit and determination. You knew when it got close, the Lakers were probably going to win because they had Kobe. I was a big Kobe guy growing up. Modeling my game is more-so after the modern wings in today’s NBA. I’m kind of that prototypical size and skill level of those types of players. I don’t think there’s one, because I don’t play like one guy. Maybe Paul George, Pascal Siakam, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown. Those type of guys.
PI: Talk to us more about what Kobe Bryant means to you.
MM: My room is messy right now, but you can see the Kobe stuff in my room. My room is actually purple and yellow. I’m a big Kobe fan. He was the first player I started watching when I was like four years old and he was in his prime. Kobe is a big part of my life and a big influence. Seeing the way he played and captivated people. I can’t put it into words. I think it showed when he died how many people were affected by him and how many people’s lives he really touched.
PI: When Kobe passed, what was your mindset?
MM: I was scrolling through Twitter. When I saw it, I thought it was fake. I said “that’s not real.” Then I saw it on Snapchat and saw it over and over again. Then they finally aired it on TV and I thought it had to be real. It was surreal to me because Kobe is not a guy you’d think would die at 40. Just how tragic it was was really sad too.
PI: Did you watch the Last Dance? What did you think?
MM: Yeah. I’ve watched all the episodes, so far. It’s pretty cool because I wasn’t alive back then. Just seeing Jordan and what was going on in those days.
PI: Who’s your GOAT?
MM: To me, it’s LeBron. I’m a Kobe fan, but I’ve just seen LeBron be the best in the NBA for so long. He’s taking scrubby teams to the Finals and does it over and over again. He’s the best all-around player of all time. He really scores at will. He scores at the same pace as Kobe, even though Kobe was a scorer. And he’s passing better, and he’s bigger, so he’s more versatile in what he does. I think he’s the best player, ultimately. I’m a Kobe fan for life, but LeBron is the best.
PI: Who’s your all-time starting five?
PG: Magic Johnson
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: LeBron James
PF: Kevin Durant
C: Shaquille O’Neal
PI: Do you have any mentor figures in your life?
MM: My dad is the main person in my basketball life. My brother is pretty important, too. I wouldn’t say I have only one mentor. I just have some people that are big in my life.
PI: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
MM: I don’t know if there’s one thing. It’s just like, you’ve got to keep working. My dad is never satisfied. I can have like 30 points and he’ll still say that wasn’t good. Just don’t be complacent is the biggest thing.
PI: Does your dad ride you pretty hard?
MM: Nothing crazy to where it affects our relationship. I’d say he rides me harder than most parents, as most skilled basketball players’ parents do.
PI: What’s your biggest passion or hobby outside of basketball?
MM: I love music, as I said earlier. Nothing crazy.
PI: Who are your top-three musicians?
MM: Drake, Adele, and Ed Sheeran. They make worldwide music. Not just one specific group of people listens to them.
PI: What are four words that best describe Mark Mitchell?
MM: Humble. Chill. Tenacious. Hard-working.
PI: Tell us something about yourself that most people have no idea about.
MM: I like Adele. That’s not typical. People know a lot about me.
PI: If you woke up tomorrow to see $10 million in your bank account, what would be your first purchase?
MM: I’d pay my mom’s house off. Then I’d buy a nice car. I’d probably buy a lot of shoes, also. But first, I’d make sure my parents are taken care of. I’m not a huge spender, so those are really the only things I’d splurge on to be honest.
PI: Do you have a car in mind?