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Mitchell Liked What He Saw in Huggins’ Past

March 30, 2010

MORGANTOWN - Casey Mitchell seemingly could have gone anywhere to play his last two seasons of college basketball.

He was the National Junior College Athletic Association Player of the Year at Chipola College (Fla.) last season, where his teams won 69 of 73 games in two years.

He was clearly a winner, and a lot of college coaches with a scholarship and a need for a shooting guard came calling.

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Coming out of junior college, West Virginia’s Casey Mitchell (33) had to choose the Mountaineers or Tennessee. Seems he made the right decision.

He filtered his choices to two -West Virginia and Tennessee - obviously looking at who teams were losing as one of his sticking points.

''There were a lot of teams that I thought I could help,'' Mitchell said, ''but Tennessee had (third-team All-American) Chris Lofton graduating at shooting guard. West Virginia had Alex Ruoff graduating at shooting guard. At the end of the day, I'm going to go with the guy that's going to push me more and has more experience with junior college players.''

That guy was West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, who, indeed, had plenty of that - Dee Proby's 2008-09 season in Morgantown notwithstanding.

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Future NBA Draft picks Nick Van Exel, Ruben Patterson, Art Long, and Pete Mickeal, also a national JC Player of the Year, were all players who were recruited to Cincinnati by Huggins from junior colleges.

Mitchell averaged 20 points per game and shot better than 34 percent from beyond the 3-point line last season, which for Chipola, ended in the national semifinals. He impressed many in his WVU Coliseum debut with 19 points in the exhibition game against Mountain State.

''There will be days you walk out of the coliseum and say, 'Casey Mitchell is the best scorer we've had here since Wil Robinson,'' Huggins predicted after Mitchell signed. ''And there will be other days when you'll walk out and you'll say, 'what the hell did Hugs recruit him for?' ''

For a while there, it looked like Mitchell couldn't have made a bad decision either way - both WVU and Tennessee advanced to the Elite Eight this season, but while the Vols lost a toughie in the last seconds to Michigan State, Mitchell and the Mountaineers had beaten Kentucky, the team most thought was the best one left in the tournament.

Mitchell's impact hasn't been as big as some thought it might. He's started six games, including the Sweet 16 game against Washington, averaging 3.8 points, while shooting 30 percent from the 3-point line.

He's conjured images of Wil Robinson, to, well, no one.

''It doesn't even matter,'' Mitchell said. ''I'm just happy to go in whenever (Huggins) calls my number. The key for me is to be ready. If I have to cheer, if I have to score, hit free throws, do whatever for this team, I'll do it. It's all about winning.

''My junior college went 69-4 in two years so I guess (Huggins) wanted to put a bunch of players that were used to winning together. You have to have chemistry and know how to work together to win. We're in the Final Four.''

The chemistry, it appears, is just fine.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at:

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