Former North Texas standout Tony Mitchell took another step toward his dream of playing in the NBA on Friday when the Detroit Pistons announced that they have signed two players they selected in this summer’s draft.
Mitchell and Georgia guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the No. 8 overall pick, signed rookie deals. Mitchell was selected in the second round with the 37th overall pick.
Players selected in the first round receive guaranteed contracts, a luxury Mitchell did not enjoy heading into the NBA Summer League.
Mitchell averaged 7.8 points and 6.8 rebounds in five Summer League games in Orlando, Fla., a performance that impressed Detroit officials and helped him earn a contract.
Friday’s move put Mitchell one step closer to earning a spot on the Pistons’ opening-night roster.
“He has that reputation of being a great athlete,” Pistons assistant coach Maz Trakh told USA Today during Mitchell’s time in Orlando. “To go along with that, he is non-stop offensively and defensively. He’s clay, and we’re trying to mold him. It’s a lot easier to mold a guy when he has those attributes, and it’s easier when the player wants to be molded. He’s a 100 percent in.”
Mitchell caught the attention of Detroit coaches and NBA observers with a game-winning putback dunk that gave the Pistons a win over the Miami Heat on July 11. Mitchell rebounded a runner from guard Korie Lucious that came up short and dunked it with 1.7 seconds remaining.
The highlight has been viewed more than 45,000 times on YouTube.
“I’m showing my athleticism, for sure” Mitchell told USA Today. “I’m just trying to play hard and give full effort. That was my biggest goal coming into this. I just want to do things I’m good at — rebound, block shots, run the floor.”
Those are the attributes that helped make Mitchell a notable player in UNT history during a short career with the Mean Green. The former Dallas Pinkston standout sat out his first semester at UNT while working to become eligible and played in only 55 games over two seasons.
Mitchell left a mark in that short time, setting school records for blocked shots in a season (87) and a career (157). He averaged 13.7 points and 9.3 rebounds over two years at UNT.
Mitchell was named the Sun Belt Freshman of the Year for the 2011-12 season and was a second-team all-conference pick as a sophomore.
Tony Benford, who took over as UNT’s head coach before Mitchell’s sophomore season, has said since arriving at the school that his former forward is well equipped to make the transition to the NBA.
“The NBA is more of a transition game,” Benford said after Mitchell declared for the draft. “He won’t see a lot of zones in the NBA and will flourish when he is able to play in space.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.