Those around Cuthbertson High School junior point guard Shelton Mitchell often marvel at how level-headed he’s been about all the attention he’s receiving.
“It just doesn’t faze him,” Cavs coach Mike Helms said.
Not the flood of recruiting letters that arrive daily, not hob-knobbing with other blue-chippers he’d previously read about on the Internet, nor the scholarship offers to top-shelf programs he’s already received. Not even the sight of coaches such as the University of North Carolina’s Roy Williams watching him practice seems to rattle Mitchell.
Many kids would have a tough time fitting their heads through the gym’s doors with that kind of attention.
“I don’t worry about that with Shelton,” Helms said. “He’s been the same level-headed kid since I first met him.”
And because of that, Mitchell and his Cuthbertson team have an excellent shot of raising their profiles even higher this season.
No rest for the weary
Initially, Mitchell’s miss at the buzzer of Cuthbertson’s loss to Kinston in the Class 2A state finals last year simply marked the end of a magical season by the Cavs in which they went 31-2 and established themselves as a power in just the school’s third year of existence.
But in the following days, it might’ve turned into something else.
“I remember talking to my family after that game, and basically I was working hard, but I thought I wasn’t working hard enough,” Mitchell recalled. “I told myself I wasn’t going to let that happen again.
“I took maybe three days off. After that, I started doing anything I could, whether it was getting stronger, watching film or working out – whatever I needed to do, I did it.”
It’s important to note that what Mitchell characterized as ill-prepared would be pretty darned special for most. Mitchell averaged 23.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game for the Cavs, en route to picking up the Rocky River 1A/2A conference’s player of the year award as well as an honorable-mention nod on Maxpreps.com’s Sophomore All-American team.
But there were several things that both Mitchell and the Cavs coaching staff identified as areas that needed improvement. First, he wanted to get stronger, which would mean having a greater presence on the defensive end.
“I did do a lot this summer to get stronger,” Mitchell said. “If it was being in the pool or flipping tires or working out in the weight room, I did it all this summer.”
In all, Mitchell said he packed on roughly 15 pounds of muscle, giving him 185 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame.
Lastly, he needed to become a better communicator on the court. It was something he’d heard from both Helms and the organizer of his AAU team, Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul.
That might’ve been the toughest transition of all, said Mitchell.
“I’ve always been the type of guy that’s led by example with everything,” Mitchell explained. “I’ve never been the type to talk. I mean, I’ll talk with my friends but not really just get out on the court and be vocal.
“(Paul) told me, ‘That’s OK, but at the same time I need you to be vocal and lead that way also.’”
It’s an important point for the Cavs since Mitchell hardly is the lone talent on the team. Isaiah Cureton, Cornelius Stradford, Emmitt Afam, Jorden Hardrick-Givens and Lucius McMillon all are outstanding players in their own right. And communication, said Helms, is essential on a roster with so many gifted performers.
“I really think he’s grown as far as trusting his teammates,” Helms said. “I’m watching our scrimmages and he’s really creating a lot of good shot opportunities for his teammates. We’re real excited about what he can do as far as leading our team.”
There were plenty of signs early on that Mitchell would gravitate toward basketball. He had little choice, said his father, Shelton Sr., as just a week after birth, he was in his mother’s arms behind the bench as his father coached an AAU team.
“He was always around it,” said Shelton Sr. “His uncles are high school coaches, I coached. He was always in the locker room.”
Mitchell also preferred video of the Chicago Bulls’ and Los Angeles Lakers’ NBA championship games over more traditional kiddie fare such as cartoons.
“He would watch them for hours and hours on end,” said Mitchell’s mother, April. “He would pause the tape and go to his little toy basketball and say, ‘Mom, watch this! I’m going to dunk it like Jordan!’
“Well, he was nowhere near dunking on the rim,” continued April, “but usually, in his mind, he’d tell me, ‘Mom, mom – watch this! I’m just as athletic and I can dunk it just like Jordan!’”
April also said her son had an uncanny ability to recall facts from the games he watched. He’d recite starting lineups, the scores after each quarter, which players were in at the end of the game and how many points they contributed.
“I remember thinking, ‘He better never tell me he didn’t remember something,’” April said with a laugh. “At that point, I just knew he was probably going to play basketball. That seemed to be what he loved.”
From there, Mitchell began playing organized ball in his native state of Washington. When he reached third grade, Mitchell and his parents were watching a family friend’s son play in the finals of an eighth-grade AAU tournament. With only five players at the tournament, the coach approached the Mitchells when one of the players injured his knee. The coach wanted to know if Mitchell’s parents would let him play on the team.
“The (coach) kind of reassured us he wouldn’t get hurt; he’d just get the ball up the court and kind of run the offense,” said Shelton Sr. “He actually went out there and played. He didn’t score any baskets, but he was able to dribble the ball up the court and get it to the scorers and just get out of the way.”
The eighth-grade team ended up winning the tournament with a third-grade point guard.
Mitchell remembers it as a fairly pivotal moment in his development as a player.
“Once I realized I could go out there and hold my own, that’s when I realized I could maybe do something with this,” Mitchell said.
For his father, it was an extremely good sign.
“He was never nervous or intimidated about it,” said Shelton Sr. “I think that’s part of always being around the game and realizing it’s just a game and there’s no reason to be fearful of anything.”
Fast-forward roughly eight years, and the recruiters certainly have taken notice. While Mitchell spent the summer honing his skills, he was doing it among some of the nation’s brightest prospects. He played at the Nike Elite 100 camp and attended the highly regarded LeBron James Skills Academy in Las Vegas. Mitchell said he currently holds scholarship offers from Clemson, South Carolina, Missouri, Wake Forest, Mississippi State, Virginia Tech, Memphis and the Charlotte 49ers.
“I think I said them all,” Mitchell said. “I’m not sure how many off the top of my head.”
Who can blame him? After all, Helms said some of his colleagues in the school office have already joked about giving Mitchell his own mailbox for all the recruiting materials.
But so far, it hasn’t fazed the teenager.
“I don’t really pay attention to (the spotlight), you know?” Mitchell said. “Even if (a college coach is) there during practice, it’s not like I’m looking over there. I act like there’s no one there. I just basically block them out and play the way I play.”