Mitchell Ready for Senior Year Spotlight at Boston College

James Coffey, Former WHS Editor

[Note]: Steffon Mitchell is known for posting motivational/inspirational quotes every night on his social media pages. Each section of this article is dedicated to one of his favorite quotes.

“WHAT’S FORGED IN THE DARK WILL SHINE IN THE LIGHT”

It’s after 11 on a Friday night and Conte Forum at Boston College is nearly silent. Vending machines whir endlessly, and the footsteps of the cleaning crew echo quietly throughout the concourse. The most prominent sound is the faint noise escaping through the doors of Power Gymnasium.

Inside the basketball teams’ practice gym, however, that faint noise is almost symphonic: Basketballs bounce, the shooting machine thumps rhythmically every four seconds and loudest of all, “Testify” by Future erupts from the Bluetooth sound system. In the center of the gym, behind the three-point line, Steffon Mitchell stands alone– a situation and a place he’s no stranger to.

Growing up, Mitchell would frequently go with his father to work out late at night in his home gym at Shakopee High School in Minnesota.

“The work I’m putting in behind the scenes is what’s gonna show up when the lights are shining in the games,” said Mitchell.

It’s no surprise that someone whose most important contributions to his team often don’t appear in the box score is so willing to do extra work late into the dark hours of a Friday night. It also should come as no surprise that when the lights shine their very brightest, Mitchell has delivered; he was recently named an All-ACC Honorable Mention, and selected to the ACC All-Defensive Team.

On the heels of an award-capped junior year, the 6’8, 220 pound Mitchell might not be one of BCs flashiest players, but he is the one that should have Eagles’ fans the most excited. Mitchell stands alone as the team leader and most instrumental piece in returning the program to its former heights.

“START UNKNOWN. FINISH UNFORGETTABLE”

Despite recent accolades, Mitchell has become accustomed to being overlooked. When he graduated high school, he was a two-star recruit, even after becoming a consensus top player in Minnesota.

Dissatisfied with the scholarship offers he had, Mitchell decided to head to Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas for a postgraduate season. He got national exposure at Sunrise Christian, but no high-level scholarship offers materialized until the spring of 2017, when BC invited him on an official visit.

“I chose BC because it was my first high major offer and I wanted to play at that level and felt this was the best chance for me to prove it to everyone else,” said Mitchell.

For most of his first two seasons with the Eagles, Mitchell was often unrecognized by those outside the program because his skills weren’t always reflected in the box score.

Until his recent ascension into the national spotlight, Mitchell remained a lesser-known name even in the college basketball community. Now, just a few months later, he is the most valuable player for a program looking to make its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2009.

“THOSE WHO KNOW ME NEVER DOUBT ME AND THOSE WHO DOUBT ME NEVER KNEW ME”

Coach Jim Christian has been effusive in his praise of Mitchell’s loyalty to the Boston College basketball program. That loyalty is evident in the company that Mitchell chooses to keep.

“I liked to keep my circle small,” said Mitchell, who entrusts a group of people that doesn’t stretch too far beyond coaches, teammates and a few friends. However, at the center of that group has always been his family, especially his mother, his 20-year-old brother, 16-year-old sister and his father, Juan.

“My father has definitely been my greatest influence in basketball,” Mitchell said without hesitation. “He was always the one who developed me and helped me believe in myself. I was always tall and strong but he helped me get the skills of a guard.”

Juan Mitchell has coached both girls and boys basketball at Shakopee High for many years and his belief in his son’s ability from a young age allowed Mitchell to develop the competitiveness, toughness and versatility he is often praised for by opposing coaches.

“My dad made everything a competition between me and my brother, and also would bring me to practice with the older players he coached. I started playing against high schoolers when I was in about fifth grade. He would stack the odds against me to make it tougher for me to win. Also, he made sure that I worked on skills that would translate to me being a big man or a guard which is how my skill set is so versatile now.”

“THE MOST POWERFUL MOTIVATION IS REJECTION”

Though he needs no extra motivation, Mitchell has an innately strong ability to hone his failures into future success.

His sophomore season at Shakopee ended just short of a berth in the Minnesota state title game, when a rival high school upended Mitchell’s squad with a buzzer-beating half-court shot in the fourth overtime of the state semifinals.

“I couldn’t watch SportsCenter for two weeks because everyday they would show that shot. But finally I decided to use that moment to make me stronger the next year,” he said.

After scoring 11 points a game as a sophomore, Mitchell returned inspired and averaged 24.6 points and 9.3 rebounds as a junior and 25.3 points and 9.7 rebounds as a senior. Despite the dramatic improvement in his play, his dream to play at home at the University of Minnesota didn’t come true.

That’s why he was excited to see Minnesota on the schedule just a few years later during his sophomore season at Boston College. The Eagles upset Minnesota, a team that later advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament, 68-56 behind a motivated Mitchell who had eight points, 13 rebounds, four assists and two blocks

“I wanted to make sure they knew they made a mistake not offering me [a scholarship],” said Mitchell firmly.

“SET GOALS SO BIG THEY LAUGH. THEN CRUSH THEM WHILE THEY WATCH”

Mitchell said he knew he could be a Division 1 player when he was in middle school, and has continued to pursue loftier targets each year. His primary goal for next season is to be the leader of a team that makes the NCAA tournament.

“In high school I also played football and tennis, which taught me very different lessons on leadership. In tennis, it’s all on you to pick yourself up and turn a match around, while in football you learn how to unify a locker room with a lot of guys and a lot of personalities,” said Mitchell.

In addition to fortifying himself as a leader, he hopes improved performance on the court next year can set him up for a future in the NBA.

“My personal goal is to put myself in a position to get drafted and make it to the league. The end of last season really increased my confidence in my offense heading into next year,” Mitchell said.

While his offense has been inconsistent at times due to taking a backseat to star teammates such as Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman, Mitchell seemingly flipped a switch over the last nine games of his junior year, when he averaged 10.6 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game.

The version of Mitchell that shows up next year is one that won’t be lacking motivation or confidence, and while others are taking time off during the Covid-19 pandemic, Mitchell has only increased his work ethic. After this dark time, a bright light will be shining on him in Chestnut Hill next year, with a trip to the NCAA tournament and a chance at the NBA on the line.

The good news for Steffon Mitchell? He’s used to preparing in the darkness. Now he’s ready to thrive in the light.