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2022-23 Player Preview: Kellen Mitchell

A strange trip, let’s hope for a great ending

I’ll admit, I hadn’t heard of Kellen Mitchell until I saw his name on Peter’s writing schedule. I started doing some research and was intrigued. Kellen Mitchell wasn’t your typical walk-on and his path to Gonzaga was also atypical. A star as a high school sophomore in Michigan, missing in action at an elite prep school in California and the focus of shortest highlight video I’ve ever seen.

Born and raised in Orange County, California, Kellen was still in grade school when his family moved to Michigan. When eligible, he enrolled in Western Michigan Christian, a private school known for its strong athletic programs.

6’ 3” starting high school and already a skilled basketball player, he was slated to start on the varsity as a freshman but Mononucleosis caused him to miss several weeks of the season. In his first game back, he was 5 for 6 from the field helping his team beat an undefeated league opponent. After the season, he played AAU ball in Grand Rapids and Chicago vastly improved his game. Kellen was ready to have a big year the following season.

Mitchell had a spectacular sophomore season, averaging 22 points, 5 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 55% from the field and 42% from three. His team had a good season and was advancing through the state play-offs when COVID pulled the plug on the post-season. Due to his big year, he was on the D-1 recruiting radar receiving letters from several schools including Georgetown and Oklahoma.

That summer, his father Keith, a former Michigan football player, knew the basketball coach at Anaheim’s Fairmont Prep Academy, one of Southern California’s most prestigious prep schools. Keith sent him his son’s highlight video seeking advice on college recruiting. The coach was impressed by the film and took it a step further, he offered Kellen a scholarship to Fairmont Prep. Young Kellen accepted, returned to Orange County, and moved in with his aunt. He’d now be competing at an elite level against some of California’s best high school players.

While playing in a pre-season game his junior year, Mitchell felt some leg discomfort and thought he injured his groin. It turned out to be a torn labrum (Cartlidge in the hip socket) requiring surgery and a year of recovery. The next season, he felt the same discomfort in the other leg. Another hip surgery, another missed basketball season. Kellen’s chances of playing at D-1 basketball, especially at a top school, seemed pretty dim.

Enter Roger Powell, the Gonzaga coach was in Los Angeles watching another player at an AAU game. Kellen, now fully healed and playing AAU ball, caught the coach’s attention. Powell, impressed by the big guard’s smooth stroke and passing skills, made contact. The coach arranged a recruiting visit to Spokane, Mitchell loved Gonzaga and accepted an offer to be a preferred walk-on (preferred means no scholarship the first year but can earn a earn one starting the second).

The same size as Julian Strawther at 6’ 7” and 205 lbs, I don’t expect to see Kellen play after the exhibition games. A redshirt year to prepare for the rigors of high D-1 basketball seems in order. With the loss of Matthew Lang and Will Graves, he will be a welcome addition to the Red Squad (scout team) as a big guard/wing who’s an excellent three-point shooter.

How great a story will it be if Kellen develops into an impact player at Gonzaga, the first walk-on to do so since Mike Hart and David Stockton. “He missed his last two years of high school play” could be the next great take a shot trite term in the great tradition of “there’s John Stockton”, “volleyball” and “Unicorn”.

On a side note; while researching Kellen’s story, I found some interesting items about his family. I mentioned his father was a football player at Michigan, he was also a screenwriter with credits on such sports themed movies as Whoopi Goldberg’s Eddie and Bernie Mac’s Mr. 3000. He’s now CEO of PlayBooked, a company helping college athletes find NIL opportunities. Mom Kimberlee is a child safety expert whose company Boo Boo Busters childproofed several celebrity homes including Brittany Spears and Matt Damon. Sister Chloe plays volleyball at Aquinas College and is credited as being the first athlete to profit from NIL.