Call him “The 20th man.”
Akil Mitchell’s signing to a Brooklyn Nets training camp deal was announced with a tweet and a press release late Sunday night, only a few hours before the team, including him, participated in Nets Media Day.
As it turned out, the Nets decided to pick up their final camp invitee from in-house, and Mitchell, a former college and now pro teammate of Joe Harris exuded confidence about his odds of making the final roster.
“I like my chances. The conversations I’ve had with the front office, my agent, I think they’ve been positive,” said Mitchell. “I like the way I’m playing, I like the way I feel. I’m completely focused on staying healthy and getting better.”
His college teammate at Virginia for four years called Mitchell’s last minute addition “huge” for him and a reward for hard work by his buddy.
“Akil’s been working with us since the end of summer league,” said Harris. “He’s had a couple of injuries that he’s battled through but he’s been here every day, either rehabbing or working out. Happy to see all of his work has paid off.
“I’m biased,” continued Harris. “I always thought he’d be a great addition because of his ability to defend, rebound. I think he’s great from the 4 position for what the NBA is moving toward.”
And before he spent the summer at HSS Training Center, Mitchell was at the Industry City complex for the final weeks of 2016-17 season. He played four games with Long Island and the now G League Nets.
In Long Island, the 6’9” former All-ACC defender averaged 8.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 28.6 minutes per contest.
Mitchell about his torn calf, the injury Harris mentioned.
“I was injured for a bit of the summer – the last few months I’ve been back in the gym, playing, feeling pretty good,” he said of his time in Brooklyn to this point. “We’ve had a few scrimmages. Tyler (Zeller) and Timofey (Mozgov) just got here. I’ve still got a lot to learn about people.”
Though Mitchell has more to learn about Mozgov and Zeller, along with some Nets, he does feel like he stacks up favorably relative to what the Nets have, and hopes to contribute to the … wait for it … “culture” of Brooklyn moving forward.
“I’ve been comfortable, I feel like I belong,” he said with conviction. “I’m completely focused on getting better. I think at my best, I’m an NBA player, and I’ve said that for a few years now. I’m just grateful that this team gave me an opportunity.”
He does have to improve his three point shooting. In the four games he played with L.I., he shot only 10 percent, but he also showed his athleticism.
Throughout his three years as a pro since going undrafted in 2014, Mitchell has spent time with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the then NBA D League, the Olympique Antibes in France, and the New Zealand Breakers before landing with the Nets organization earlier this year.
His most famous — more infamous — moment in his career game while playing for the New Zealand Breakers in January.
On January 26, 2017, Mitchell fell to the floor in agony early in the fourth quarter of the Breakers' 94–81 loss to the Cairns Taipans after what seemed to be an poke to the face while contesting a rebound. However, the poke was more significant than that.
Mitchell’s left eyeball came out of its socket. He was taken to Auckland Hospital after the incident, where he later regained vision. He joined Long Island a month later. He wears protective glasses to assure there isn’t a recurrence.
Primarily, he’s shown himself to be a hustle player who battles on the boards and brings it defensively. Just Kenny Atkinson’s type.
As to what he envisions his role on the team, Mitchell responded with a calm: “Whatever the hell they ask me to,” followed by a laugh.
“If they paid me to drive the bus, I’ll drive the bus,” he continued, smiling. “I know what I do best. I’m a player that knows who I am, how I play, and I think they see something in that. I’ll just do what I do to the best of my ability.”