My biggest thing is not being concerned with that type of stuff but being focused on myself and the things that I can control. I try my best not to even think, 'Am I doing what Melo or LeBron is doing?' —Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell
OKLAHOMA CITY — With fresh cornrows, draped in a platinum six-button suit, a 19-year-old Carmelo Anthony patiently waited to hear his name called in Madison Square Garden on June 26, 2003.
“With the third pick in the 2003 NBA draft, the Denver Nuggets select Carmelo Anthony from Syracuse University,” former NBA commissioner David Stern announced.
In one of the most anticipated drafts in NBA history, Anthony would quickly establish himself as one of the best in a class that included LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and six other All-Stars.
“Not really knowing what to expect to be honest with you,” Anthony reflected on his first year. “Kind of going through that season.
“I remember having preseason, my rookie year, and I’m like, ‘Oh, preseason, this is cool, this is what it is’ and then I get to the first game of the NBA and it’s like, ‘Oh, this is the NBA right here’ and I get to after the All-Star break and it’s a totally different game,” he added. “Then playoffs come, and it’s a whole other level so it was different levels to that season, my rookie season that I will always remember that guys just turned it on at different points of the season.”
Anthony finished runner-up to James in the Rookie of the Year race, even while averaging 21.0 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists in leading Denver to the playoffs with 44 wins.
The James-Anthony Rookie of the Year debate would take the league by storm as both would go on to become superstars, currently in their 15th seasons.
History has since repeated itself with another strong draft class in 2018, involving Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell and Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons.
With Utah facing the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of this year’s postseason, Anthony is matched up against Mitchell — a young guy experiencing a similar run in his rookie season.
Mitchell has carried the Jazz offensively, becoming the first rookie to lead a playoff team in scoring since Anthony.
Less than 30 miles away, as Anthony was being drafted at MSG, a 6-year-old Mitchell was enjoying childhood with his family in Elmsford, New York.
He wouldn’t turn 7 until Sept. 7, 2003, as Anthony thrived in the Mile High City, fresh off a national title at Syracuse as a freshman.
“I really don’t remember to be honest. I was only like 7,” Mitchell admitted. “I probably did watch it but I didn’t comprehend. I watched him a lot when he was in New York.”
But now that he’s 21 years old and sharing similar occurrences as a rookie, Mitchell relates to the journey but refuses to let it consume him.
“My biggest thing is not being concerned with that type of stuff but being focused on myself and the things that I can control,” Mitchell said. “I try my best not to even think, ‘Am I doing what Melo or LeBron is doing?’
“It’s an honor to be in that category, but we’ve got bigger things to worry about with my rookie season. ... I’m really focused on ourselves more than anybody.”
The veteran forward witnessed Mitchell post 27 points and 10 rebounds in his playoff debut, but the Thunder pulled out Game 1 Sunday 116-108.
Watching the young guy go unfazed in the big moment was cool, but there’s no time for Anthony to shower him with praises in the heat of the battle.
“I never try to compare anybody or any situation, but what he’s able to do as a rookie with that team is impressive,” Anthony said after posting 15 points and seven rebounds in the win. “But, as of right now, we kind of stopped, kind of put an end to that.
“It’s us versus him, us versus them at this moment,” he added. “But, what he’s able to do throughout the whole season has been very impressive.”