You’re not too big for anybody and I just want to go out there and at least make an impact on somebody or someone and make sure they have a good time. This is something they’ll remember. —Donovan Mitchell
MILLCREEK — On Saturday night, 14-year-old Alaina Riddle was watching the NBA Slam Dunk contest with her family in Utah like the rest of the world.
Four days later, the eighth-grader got to meet the newly crowned dunk champion and Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell.
“My year is complete now,” Riddle explained. “Life is awesome. I’m so excited.”
Riddle was one of 250 or so people in attendance Wednesday to see the rising star upon his arrival from All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles at the Strikes for Kids Utah Bowling Classic at Fat Cats Entertainment Center.
Royce O’Neale was in attendance as well.
Even after the hundreds of media requests, obligations and other appearances, Mitchell said he felt an obligation to show his presence and leadership in the community.
“You’re not too big for anybody and I just want to go out there and at least make an impact on somebody or someone and make sure they have a good time,” Mitchell said. “This is something they’ll remember.”
Mitchell posed for photos, signed autographs, and interacted with the community on behalf of the Strikes for Kids national nonprofit organization. Proceeds from the event were used to benefit The Strikes for Kids Backpack Giveaway Program for youth organizations around the area.
“I just wanted to find something that kids would enjoy, being able to give back. I’m giving 200 book bags full of school supplies to the kids,” Mitchell said. “As a kid, I loved bowling and it was a bowling alley right around my house so who can’t love bowling? It’s a great family event, great for all ages and I just want to give back to the kids.”
Strikes for Kids founder Joe Allen started planning the event as soon as Mitchell was drafted. The program uses bowling and golf events to partner with NBA and NFL athletes and enriches the lives of students across the United States.
Allen was pleased with the turnout, especially with Mitchell in the spotlight and a growing legion of fans. This was the perfect time to deliver a strike.
“Huge,” Allen said. “This is the biggest thing for our organization since we had Marshawn Lynch when the Seahawks won the Super Bowl. We do events all across the United States so we had Marshawn in Seattle after they won the Super Bowl.”
BACK TO WORK: After a few days rest, the Utah Jazz returned to practice, fresh off the All-Star break. The team went for three-plus hours as new addition Jae Crowder continues to get acclimated to the system.
“It felt good,” Crowder said. “The altitude is still kicking my butt, but I need it. It’s just good to be back with the group.”
Crowder said coach Quin Snyder threw a lot at him, but it’s not too much for him to handle. He’s averaging 14.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists off the bench in his first three games as a Jazzman as the Jazz ride an 11-game win streak.
“I’ll have my work cut out tonight studying but it takes a little time with the playbook,” Crowder said. “I watched film and talked about a couple sets but it’ll take time.”