By Tim Gendimenico ’13
The last time I saw Frank Mitchell was at an Ithaca football game in September of ’09 when he was on a recruiting trip to IC. It felt strange seeing a former high school teammate up at school as Frank mentioned that he’d met Chris Cruz and Phil Barera and they seemed like nice guys. I gave him some insight into life at Ithaca and wished him luck with his decision. A few months later I sent Frank a text asking him if he was going to be a Bomber and he responded, “Actually, I’m going to play at Rutgers.”
This was over a year and half ago and the times have changed. After spending a year in the nation’s most competitive basketball conference, Frank has relocated to the Hill Center where he’s loving life in the Empire 8.
“My initial thought about Rutgers was that it was too good of an opportunity to pass up,” says Mitchell. Like any other high school kid, Mitchell couldn’t fathom the idea of passing up the chance to play at a big-time Division I program, let alone Rutgers, a school that he grew up just 20 minutes away from. The convenience of playing in his backyard where his friends and family could see him play only made it more appealing. Frank and I spent many summers at the RAC (Rutgers Athletic Center) going to team camps. Even our coach, Ian Progin, was a former Rutgers player. Mitchell also attended numerous RU football games in high school and even stormed the field after a 2007 upset over #2-ranked Louisville. Even though playing time was going to be scarce it was an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“The perks were unbelievable,” Mitchell said as he thinks back to his time at Rutgers. He mentions his first basket against Norfolk State as one of his favorites memories. Of course there was also getting blocked by North Carolina’s Drew Henson in Madison Square Garden, getting playing time against eventual national champion UConn and a couple of appearances on ESPN. As much fun as Mitchell had being on the team he said the behind-the-scenes work was grueling. “Coach Rice [Former RU basketball coach] made no point to hide the fact that we were really going to work harder than any Big East team because we didn’t have as much talent as other Big East teams.” Mitchell mentioned stories of players taking extra shots in the dark at 10 p.m. after a grueling three-hour practice. “It puts it in perspective to see people who work so hard and then you get to the see the rewards that come with that,” Mitchell said.
As glamorous as the Big East lifestyle was for Mitchell, he was itching to see more action and contribute more to his team. It’d been a great season and he was even pleasantly surprised by how well he was able to keep up with the competition, but he began to reconsider if he wanted to continue playing basketball. He juggled with the idea of staying at Rutgers as a full-time student or transferring to a school where he could play more. After some soul-searching and discussion with his parents, Mitchell put together the idea of going to a school that was interested in him out of high school. “I still had a passion for the game and wanted to continue to play and I immediately thought of Ithaca,” he recalled. Mitchell talked to the coaches at Rutgers and they were supportive of his decision as they knew he was dying for some floor time. The toughest part about transferring for him was leaving behind the teammates and friends he’d made. “The coaches and the players — I built good relationships with them,” he recalls, “it was a good experience overall.” Frank closed an entertaining chapter in his life and embarked on a new adventure 250 miles north.
November 28th 2011, it’s Ithaca’s home opener against Cortland and Mitchell has come a long way from Rutgers. His parents are still in the stands but now he’s more focused than ever on the game ahead. Ithaca has started the season 1-4 and Mitchell has begun to feel the pressure to perform in order for the team to succeed. “I feel like I’m getting it back and I’m grasping the idea of being more assertive offensively and defensively and I feel like I’ve picked up from where I left off in high school in terms of being a major part of a team.” By the end of the game, Mitchell is exhausted. He’s gone 10 for 15 from the field, scoring 24 points and logging the most minutes on the team. Frank carried the team in the fourth quarter only to miss a layup that would have put Ithaca ahead by three with a few seconds remaining. After two timeouts, Cortland scored on a layup with four seconds left and Ithaca couldn’t get off a shot attempt to win it. The loss was tough but just a minor speed bump on the Mitchell’s road.
Aside from a few close losses Mitchell is meshing well with his new teammates. Starting point guard Sean Rossi has reaped the benefits of Frank’s post game. “Teams have to respect him, like they did Phil Barera, and double-down on him when he has the ball. From a point guard’s standpoint he is very good at rolling to the basket and finishing the passes I give him,” says Rossi. Mitchell is just as appreciative of the guard’s ability to create for him. “He’s a very good distributor, he’s obviously known for getting a bunch of assists and that’s helps a big guy a lot,” said Mitchell.
So far Mitchell couldn’t be happier with his decision. “I’m enjoying it just because I’ve experienced playing in arenas and flying to games,” he said. “I did that at Rutgers and it was a great time. What I really focus on now is playing basketball not so much the things that come with it”.
It’s the little things that he’s begun to enjoy like riding to team games in vans driven by the coaches. “That kind of threw me off, usually I’m used to coaches watching film or something on the plane,” he said while laughing at his first experience on the road. Not surprisingly though, it’s been a fun experience for him. Former high school teammate and Keane University point guard Steve Hydzik said, “Off the court he’s actually pretty funny. Always getting everyone laughing. It was fun to be around him.” And the impression has lasted as one teammate described Mitchell as a “straight boss on and off the court — Rick Ross status.” Mitchell has indeed had success thus far this season, averaging 17.0 point per game, 7.5 rebounds per game and is shooting 55% from the field. He’s also been honored as Empire 8 rookie of the week. “Ithaca’s been successful and I’d like to continue that, hopefully win some Empire 8 championships and leave my mark,” he said.
Looking back, Mitchell couldn’t have handled his college basketball decisions any better. Former teammate Hydzik agrees, saying “I definitely think Frank did it the right way. He had a chance to go to a Division I Big East program and really see what all the elite basketball players do.” Mitchell was able to do a lot of things that sports fans dream about. He took his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and has no regrets. The lone year at Rutgers was just enough, as the lure of action couldn’t keep him away.
To learn more about Frank Mitchell’s transition to IC, check out Keara Dowd’s Sports Final piece below:
Photo Credits: Ithaca College Sports Information (1st photo) // empire8.com (2nd photo) // Shawn Steiner/The Ithacan (3rd photo)