Stay or go? Mitchell agonizing over decision

June, 4, 2009
Tasmin Mitchell is in a jam.

His decision to stay in the NBA draft or head back to LSU is hardly black-and-white.

He's not projected to go in the first round. And while he is certainly in play for a possible second-round pick, even that could be a gamble when teams start to look at stashing the rights of foreign players overseas instead of giving an American a roster shot this summer.

Mitchell's good friends Glen Davis and Tyrus Thomas, whom he played with on LSU's 2006 Final Four team, both are blossoming into solid NBA role players. They competed against each other in an epic first-round series as Davis' Boston Celtics edged Thomas' Chicago Bulls in seven games.

Mitchell has confided in both of them recently. He said Davis and Thomas told him that he's better than some players in the NBA. They said he should be in the league. Mitchell said he's not jealous of their success and was ecstatic at their play in the playoffs. But Mitchell has already been in school four years. He was hurt two seasons ago, limited to only three games because of an injured left ankle that required surgery.

Gone from last season's 27-win, outright SEC regular-season champion is leading scorer Marcus Thornton -- who has a real shot at being a first-round pick -- and fellow seniors Garrett Temple and Chris Johnson.

If Mitchell were to come back to school, he would be one of two returning starters, along with guard Bo Spencer. The rest of the squad will be relatively new and the Tigers will be facing a rebuilding situation.

"This isn't an easy decision," Mitchell said. "It's really hard. It's almost unfair how difficult it is. People don't know how hard a decision this is."

It got even harder when Mitchell sprained his ankle in Baton Rouge on Thursday. That led him to call LSU coach Trent Johnson and have him cancel workouts with Portland and New Orleans that were scheduled for the next few days. Mitchell also asked to meet with Johnson on Sunday to discuss his future.

According to Johnson, Mitchell is close to graduating and the school confirmed that he would be on track to get his degree sometime next season (either in December or May). If he were to average 16 or 17 points a game, then he would have a real shot to become the school's third-leading scorer behind Pete Maravich and Rudy Macklin. He averaged 13.8 points his first 106 games (16.3 last season).

Next season's LSU team would be his team, and even though his good friends would be gone, Mitchell would be the unquestioned leader and spokesperson. He has connected well with Johnson after Johnson replaced John Brady. Instead of power forward, Mitchell would also play his more natural small forward spot, a position more akin to where he could be as a pro.

"It's all weighing on me because we lost a lot of veteran guys," Mitchell said. "Those guys brought us a lot of wins. I know next year is a rebuilding year."

Mitchell knows he would be the featured scorer. But that isn't a focal point for him.

"I want to win, no matter what," Mitchell said.

The LSU roster was depleted even more with the departure of senior Terry Martin and Johnson's decision to dismiss freshman Delwan Graham for a violation of team rules. Mitchell would be joined by rising junior Spencer, rising sophomores Zach Kinsley and Storm Warren and rising senior Alex Farrer, as well as some newcomers: guard Aaron Dotson, forward Eddie Ludwig and 6-foot-10 redshirt sophomore Garrett Green, a player whom Johnson is enamored with. Green didn't play last season because of back problems.

Ole Miss 6-9 sophomore forward Malcolm White (7.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg) transferred to LSU and won't be eligible in 2010-11, but should be a huge help in practice.

"Either way it's going to be a good situation for him," Johnson said of Mitchell. "I've never said to someone you have to come back. We knew this was going to happen where we were going to lose Marcus, Garrett, Chris, Quentin Thornton, a back-up post -- Terry Martin, who scored the ball well -- and Graham is now gone too. We're not going to replace Thornton or those other seniors with that type of length or leadership with any high school player."

But Johnson reiterated that there will be plenty of opportunity for minutes among the returnees, assuming everyone is healthy.

Spencer had wrist surgery. Farrer had knee surgery. Dotson, who is from Johnson's hometown of Seattle, had surgery in February for a cracked patella.

"I'm hoping he'll get his explosiveness back," Johnson said. "Eddie [Ludwig] is much more of a cerebral player, skilled but not as explosive. We're losing 80 percent of our scoring. It will be challenging. There are a lot of unknowns."

Mitchell said he worked out in front of Milwaukee, Cleveland, Detroit and Minnesota, before he had to cancel dates with the Blazers and Hornets due to Thursday's injury.

"Baby [Davis] and Tyrus just told me to follow my heart," Mitchell said. "They said they didn't see me losing anything by trying to come out and it's a good thing in what I'm doing. They think that I can play in the NBA. They believe in me. They said I'm better than a lot of guys going in the first round that get a lot of hype. I know the game."

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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