UTAH JAZZ

Donovan Mitchell Was Scared By Russell Westbrook As A Rookie

Apr 29, 2020, 4:26 PM
Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz guards against Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thun...
Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz guards against Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first half during Game Six of Round One of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Vivint Smart Home Arena on April 27, 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)
(Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell revealed that his biggest fear as a rookie was rival star Rusell Westbrook in a video interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Mitchell, a former Boys and Girls Club member fielded questions from current members about his life as an NBA player, how he’s handled being away from the game, and what he feared most as a rookie.

In a never before told story, Mitchell recalled his first interaction with Westbrook as the Jazz faced the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Westbrook was one of my favorite players,” Mitchell said, “He does that thing where he sits on the bench pregame, so physically seeing him I had to get that ‘Oh, thats Russell Westbrook out of my head’. So Steven Adams is standing in from of him and I peek around him and Steven moves, and Russell is giving me the death stare right in my first game.”

Though Mitchell remembers first seeing Westbrook as the two teams met in just the third game of the Jazz guard’s rookie season, both players had games they’d likely prefer to forget about.

Yet to find his stride as a rookie, Mitchell scored just two points on 1-7 shooting while committing four personal fouls. Westbrook scored just 6 points on 2-11 shooting while turning the ball over seven times.

“I was like oh what do I do?” Mitchell remembers, “I emulated his moves non-stop and now he’s staring at you, trying to instill fear into you and it was like okay you’ve got to get over this.”

Getting over his bad performances was a skill Mitchell has had to learn throughout his basketball career, dating back to high school.  

The biggest thing is don’t let it consume you,” Mitchell said, “Coaches are not going to worry about you going 0-20, they’re going to worry about how you react to going 0-20, how you respond, those are the things that are going to get you a college scholarship.

Ultimately, Mitchell would get the last laugh between the two in his rookie season. The Jazz and Thunder would face one another in the first round of the playoffs leading to Mitchell’s breakout performance on a national stage.

The Jazz guard mentioned that beating the Thunder in six games was the best moment of his young career.

“For me and our team, that was our first playoff series win and my first playoff series with the Jazz,” Mitchell remembered, “We had been paying back and forth, we were supposed to win [game five] in OKC but Russell Westbrook had one of his special games.”

Despite leading by 15 at the half, and a 25 point lead in the second half, the Jazz lost game five in Oklahoma City thanks to a 45 point, 15 rebound, seven assist performance from Westbrook.

After the game, Mitchell assured Thunder fans that the series would not be going back to Oklahoma City for a game seven.

The Jazz would close the series in a hard-fought game six at home.

“We came back home and handled business,” Mitchell told Wojnarowski, “But for me as a rookie, playing against Paul [George] and Carmelo [Anthony], I used to watch Carmelo in [Madison Square Garden] as a kid, Paul really told me to come to the NBA, he and [Chris Paul], and then a guy I used to emulate in Russell Westbrook, so all of them on the same team and for us to beat them, that was one of the best memories in my life.”

Though the two players have had their share of battles, Mitchell and Westbrook shared a special moment after a game in Utah early in the Jazz guard’s career.

Despite suffering a 103-89 loss, Mitchell put up an ultra-efficient 29 points on 12-16 shooting, while grabbing five rebounds.

After the game, Westbrook, George, and Anthony met Mitchell at halfcourt to offer advice to the young guard on his rapidly developing stardom in his rookie season.

In the conversation with Wojnarowksi, Mitchell shared several stories that may interest Jazz fans, including attending LeBron James decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat, his struggles as a student in high school, and how he’s kept busy during the quarantine.

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