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Mitchell was an up-and-coming star at Alabama before he was suspended during his sophomore year.

Maddening immaturity

Ants’ Mitchell slowly distancing himself from troubled past

Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
D-League All-Star Tony Mitchell has started all 30 games for the Mad Ants this season.

– There are only so many cheeks Tony Mitchell can turn; so many times that a man can hold his tongue; so many demons from within to slay, only to have them reappear.

And they still do. Not quite as often as before, but they still return, as they did Tuesday night.

Mitchell, the Mad Ants 6-foot-8 forward who is less than two weeks removed from an NBA D-League All-Star Game appearance and slam dunk championship, had been getting hacked and held much of the game against Erie but wasn’t getting the referees’ calls. And the more he pleaded, it seemed, the more he was ignored.

So when he was whistled for a foul against Erie’s 6-10 center Henry Sims, Mitchell couldn’t keep his feelings to himself. He yapped at the ref, which drew a technical foul and caused Ants coach Duane Ticknor to pull him from the game.

The Ants lost 112-104.

Despite Mitchell’s 25 points, the minor show of emotion was a tiny step backward in his quest for an NBA roster spot.

“He’s a totally different person in the last month than he was the first six weeks he was here,” Ticknor said. “He’s become a great teammate; very coachable, approachable.

“Early on he was kind of aloof in those types of things. He’s very much a competitor. Sometimes his body language gets him a little bit, and I try to talk to him a lot about it. Sometimes he’s got some hurdles to overcome to get to the NBA because of his past history.”

Mitchell played two years at Alabama, where he made the All-SEC freshman team, and the all-conference second team as a sophomore. But he was suspended from the team late in his sophomore year and never returned.

Reports claim it wasn’t one violation but “an accumulation of things” according to Alabama coach Anthony Grant.

He surfaced at the Sacramento Kings camp, got released, and then picked up by the Ants in the player draft.

“I knew I wouldn’t get drafted (by the NBA) because of the way I was being in school,” Mitchell said. “I know I can play this game. I know I can play in the league. Now it means coming out here and working hard.”

Mitchell averages 18.9 points and 6.6 rebounds and has started 30 games – more than any member of the team.

Despite his technical Tuesday, he says his development as a player and an individual has improved since he’s been in Fort Wayne.

“Both have grown tremendously,” Mitchell said. “Being here with older guys who have been in the same situation I have been in, trying to get to the league, I’ve matured.”

But according to Ticknor, there is still room for improvement.

“He needs to do everything as perfect as he can,” Ticknor said. “Even if you’re frustrated, you’ve got to let those things slide off your back and just keep playing. I always tell my guys, ‘Scouts are looking for reasons to cross you off the list and not put you on the list.’ ”

Note: Injured forward Luke Harangody practiced Thursday, however, his status for today’s home game against Springfield won’t be determined until after the afternoon shoot-around.

stwarden@jg.net

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