Transition defense was obviously the biggest defense on the way in and some of that is us taking care of the ball on the offensive end, which is what we did a really good job of in the first half. —Jazz coach Quin Snyder
INDIANAPOLIS — Donovan Mitchell can still point out the locker room stall.
He not only knows where he was sitting but can also describe the emotions and feelings he experienced in his last collegiate game in a Louisville uniform.
The day was March 19, 2017, at Indiana’s Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Now, as a rookie for the Utah Jazz, it’s hard to believe that the 73-69 loss he suffered to Michigan in the second round of the NCAA Tournament wasn’t even a full year ago.
“It’s just crazy to me how everything happens so fast,” Mitchell explained. “The turnaround has been insane.”
On Wednesday, Mitchell made his professional debut in Indiana with a flood of support from his collegiate home.
At least 150 supporters from the University of Louisville made the two-hour drive to see the slam dunk champion lead the Jazz to a 104-84 win against the Pacers live. He would end with 20 points, six assists and three rebounds in Utah’s ninth consecutive road victory. It also marked his rookie-best 33rd game with 20-plus points.
For 13-year-old Tucker Oberst, experiencing Mitchell up close for his first-ever NBA game was priceless.
“He made the crowd so ecstatic and it’s just a good opportunity to meet him and see him,” said Oberst, who attended with his auntie, Michelle, from Louisville, Kentucky. “It was actually a birthday present for me.”
Jazz center Rudy Gobert would also finish with 23 points and 14 boards, Ricky Rubio added 18 points and seven assists while Jae Crowder posted 16 points and four rebounds in 28 minutes off the bench. Joe Ingles jumped to No. 2 on the Jazz’s all-time single-season 3-pointers made list with 11 points and two treys.
Utah held the Pacers to 38.6 percent shooting and 13 percent from beyond the arc despite Myles Turner’s game-high 24 points. Indiana All-Star guard Victor Oladipo shot 6-for-19 to get his 13 points.
“Transition defense was obviously the biggest defense on the way in and some of that is us taking care of the ball on the offensive end, which is what we did a really good job of in the first half,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “We had a lot of guys that just were urgent to get back.”
As early as January, the UofL Alumni Association notified 30 lucky fans that they would receive access to pregame warm-ups and halftime introductions for the Jazz-Pacers matchup, featuring Mitchell.
All of them huddled courtside ahead of the game before settling into their lower bowl seats throughout the arena. Pacers Group Events Specialist Beau Dries was one of the Louisville alumni to help spread the word, despite working for the opposing team.
“He obviously has a good following and has obviously brought the Jazz to something similar like what we’re going through with the Pacers of losing their star player and looking forward to next year,” Dries said. “Now, everything is on the positive side.”
Forty-two-year-old Cameron Schanie was another Louisville alumnus in attendance who watched from Section 7, Row 20 in Indiana in red gear. Mitchell was showered with cheers during his pregame introduction.
With the recent sex scandal and stripping of the 2013 men’s basketball national title, Mitchell provided a bright spot for Louisville supporters through his success. Nobody saw this coming.
“It’s unbelievable. You knew he was going to be good, but you didn’t know he was going to be great immediately,” said Schanie. “You didn’t know he was going to be an impact player from day one. He’s blowing up.”