CHICAGO — As a sellout crowd of 18,306 fans were finding their seats at Vivint Arena, numerous cameras shuttered around Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell on the court while he interacted with North Carolina’s Coby White on April 20 in Salt Lake City.
Mitchell made it a point to chat with the draft prospect ahead of Utah’s Game 3 tip-off during the first-round series versus Houston, alongside their agent Ty Sullivan of CAA Sports.
Although the Jazz suffered a 104-101 loss, the experience stuck with him as the one-and-done guard is now a projected lottery pick for the NBA Draft on Thursday, June 20.
The Jazz didn’t interview White during this week’s draft combine, but Mitchell is helping change the culture of playing in Utah through those kinds of gestures, as well as Utah’s three consecutive postseason appearances.
“Everybody says the Utah arena gets rocking, so I went out there, and you can definitely feel the different vibe of a playoff game,” White recalled during Thursday’s media availability at the combine. “You can see how hard, how aggressive and how physical it is during a playoff game, but I think it was a great experience for me.”
Utah holds the No. 23 and 53 picks of the 2019 draft.
On Thursday afternoon, newly appointed executive vice president of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey studied the combine action while sitting courtside at Chicago’s Quest Multisport alongside senior basketball advisor Kevin O’Connor. Jazz front office members Walt Perrin, Bart Taylor, David Morway, Justin Zanik and Steven Schwartz, among others, were also out front to scout the talent pool.
Ten prospects were interviewed by the Jazz on Wednesday, according to a Deseret News source. Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke, Tennessee’s Admiral Schofield and Brewster Academy guard Jalen Lecque also confirmed their contact with the organization.
“It’s a cool state. Obviously, it’s really, really beautiful,” said Clarke, who NBADraft.net projects the Jazz will take in the first round on their latest mock draft. “They have all four seasons, so that’s kind of cool, but it’s a really cool state."
“Hopefully we can get in and get a workout,” added Schofield, who was listed on a CBS Sports mock draft as a possible target. “It would be great to be on that team and play with Donovan Mitchell and play in front of that crowd. They’re really energetic, they’ve got a nice core, and they’re on the right track right now.”
Utah State’s Neemias Queta and Kansas’ Devon Dotson also participated in pre-draft workouts at the Jazz practice facility prior to the combine, which Dotson said he felt “went great.”
“I feel like it’s changing from just watching the games and you can see that the culture looks different,” Dotson said of Utah. “The fans are into it, and it’s a great place. I went out to Utah for March Madness, and when I went out there it was my first time and I was surprised that I liked it. It was cool and the mountains in the backdrop, so I loved it out there.”
Whether Jazz fans like it or love it, North Carolina’s Nassir Little says there is a stigma associated with playing in Utah.11 comments on this story
“The stigma is that you’re in a place where it’s just grass and it’s a boring place to be,” Little said, smiling. “I’ve never been there personally, so I can’t say, but that’s kind of the stigma. I think that’s kind of changing with Donovan Mitchell, who is kind of adding some swagger to Utah and to the team.”
However, after listening to his college teammate White’s description of the playoff atmosphere and being around Mitchell for the Jazz-Rockets contest, Little sees things slowly changing for the better.
“I do. Especially with him as a mid-first round guy,” Little said of Mitchell. “Obviously, people counted him out, but nobody really gave him the credit for how good he was and for him to play more than he did, that definitely kind of opened my eyes as far as Utah.”