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February 17, 2018

Donovan Mitchell

Los Angeles, California - Verizon Slam Dunk

Q. Can you tell us about the last dunk when you paid homage to Vince Carter, it was over, as you said?
DONOVAN MITCHELL: Growing up I was a big dunker. I wasn't really much of a basketball player. I just dunked and played defense, and I watched a lot of Vince's videos. I've been seeing what he's been doing all year at his age, which is incredible.

So I figured, you know, at my size if I was able to get it, it would be a great dunk and a way to finish it, you know. And actually, funny story is I haven't made that dunk in like half a year. I tried it in practice the past two days and tried it this morning, didn't make it. Tried it last night, didn't make it. So to be able -- or two nights ago, excuse me. But to be able to make it was why I was so excited.

Q. You went with Dr. Dunkenstein as well as the Vince Carter dunk. How important is it to you to be a student of the game?
DONOVAN MITCHELL: You know, just knowing your history, I think, is the biggest thing. Just understanding where this game originated, I guess the OGs of the game, I guess you would call it. But just understanding. Even if it's just dunking. Whether it's dunking in the NBA in general, Darrell Griffith, we went to the same school in college. I know Darrell very well. Both got drafted by the Jazz, and he was an incredible player. To be able to pay homage to him meant a lot to me.

Q. How much preparation went into this contest for you, and then once you got out there, how much did you have to improvise?
DONOVAN MITCHELL: So believe it or not, I've been preparing for this since I was a kid, you know, like what am I going to do? But I didn't know I'd be able to jump this high, so it kind of added a few more tricks.

But the first one, I've been doing that since high school. Just acted as if there's a wall behind the basket. The second one I missed the first dunk, which was my original dunk, and I switched it up. Brought my sister, Kevin Hart and his son out there, just for fun, you know. Just to have fun. I'm glad and I'm honored that he helped me out. He's one of my favorite comedians.

The third one was supposed to be my second dunk, the one that I missed. But I figured if I do it again, I've got to punch it home. And then obviously the last one was probably one of my favorites.

Q. Can you kind of just talk us through sort of the over -- you said this is something you've wanted to do from a little kid. What kind of dunker were you early in your life, when did you first dunk, and what was that process to get to tonight?
DONOVAN MITCHELL: My first dunk was in the seventh grade, outside at a park in Harlem. Funny thing is I had AAU teammates, and all three of us dunked for the first time on the same day, so that was a pretty exciting experience.

My first during in a game was in eighth grade at Greenwich Country Day School, and from there, I just fell in love with it. I always used to lower the rim. Everybody used to go low rims and try to do crazy stuff on it. And it came to the point where the stuff I was doing on the low rims, I was able to do on ten-foot rims, and then from there, all right, now I'm going to start watching guys. I watched Aaron Gordon highlights in high school in class. I know I shouldn't say that, but like that was -- he was one of my favorite high school dunkers. Zach LaVine as well.

So to be out there and be in the same competition as those guys and to win it is incredible.

Q. Were there any other dunks tonight that really impressed you?
DONOVAN MITCHELL: Larry's was nice. I didn't know he did it twice off the backboard. I thought he just did it once. The fact that he did it twice, it just shows -- for a guy that height, people always say it's easy for him to dunk. The fact that he was bringing the ball to his feet was impressive. He paid homage to his dad.

Vic had a nice one. I wish he got the first one, though, because I was really excited. I've seen Dennis dunk since high school. So I knew I've seen the dunks, but he got higher tonight because of the atmosphere.

Q. At what point of the day or the competition did you know that you were going to take it all the way?
DONOVAN MITCHELL: After I made the dunk.

Q. Yeah, just after the last one?
DONOVAN MITCHELL: Yeah, I didn't think I was going to win, to be honest with you. If you ask anybody around me, I was like, yeah, it's fun to participate. That was my thing. Yeah, it's fun to be in it. I didn't think this was going to happen.

Maybe y'all don't know, but I didn't think any of this was going to happen, so the fact that any of this is happening is incredible to me. I'm just enjoying this whirlwind.

Q. It's not something that you felt throughout the day like this is my day? No, not at all?
DONOVAN MITCHELL: No, because the thing is I knew how high some of these guys jumped, and I said if they make their dunks -- it's all about makes or misses at that point. It was just a matter of finding out at that time. There was really no -- it's not like you can say I'm going to make every shot. He's not scoring on me. It's a little different with dunks. You've got to wait until the moment happens to figure out I might have a shot. You're back there changing and guys start missing dunks and you think I've got to make this, and all right, that's it.

Q. It might be too early to set in, but you're obviously a student of the game, so paying homage to Vince Carter. What do you say to possible young players paying homage to you 20 years down the line?
DONOVAN MITCHELL: Hopefully I've been in the league long enough like Vince has to leave an impact like he has. My biggest thing is just staying humble. The big thing that like a lot of my parents and people of the older generation say like young kids nowadays we feel entitled. We feel like we deserve everything that we have, and that's not the case.

You look at injuries that happened this whole year, this could be taken away in a matter of seconds. You could have a great day and then it could be taken away. So you've got to approach it every day like this is your last day. You've got to go out there and just work your butt off because this isn't promised. Like I tell people, I didn't expect any of this to happen. I was a kid who couldn't shoot, couldn't do anything, and just continued to work. I didn't let the high school rankings, the being Top 5 in the draft, didn't let any of that affect me. Just going out there and taking it day by day. If you continue to learn, learning is underrated for kids nowadays. Kids don't like to learn. They like to just do, and that's when mistakes come. Just starting to learn and being able to understand that that's part of the process.

Q. Was there one of those guys out there that you wanted to go head to head with in the finals?
DONOVAN MITCHELL: Dennis for sure.

Q. Why Dennis?
DONOVAN MITCHELL: Because I've lost dunk contests to him and Derrick Jones in high school a bunch, so I wanted to try to at least have a chance to go up against them. But unfortunately he missed a few dunks.

But like I said, I've been watching him dunk for a while, and it was pretty cool to be out there with him again.

Q. Did you have another dunk if the dunk contest went one more round?

Q. So that was it for you?
DONOVAN MITCHELL: Yeah, that was it.

Q. Wanted to ask you, you were talking about the visualization of coming up, not thinking about being a Top 10 pick. This rookie year has been magnificent for you, and it's really -- you're gaining more and more confidence and more assertiveness. So talk about like did you visualize this a year ago in your preparation and working hard for the draft, especially being under Coach Rick Pitino? Did he give you that confidence as well?
DONOVAN MITCHELL: He gave me the confidence to start shooting, to start shooting without having fear. There was a time when my freshman year I shot 25% from the field and teams were letting me shoot. Like go ahead, air ball this, air ball that. There comes a point in time where you just get tired of hearing it.

As a competitor, I got tired of hearing it. Oh, you can't shoot. People like that play basketball, they understand. That's one of the most disrespectful things if a guy sags off you. It's not a good thing. You're going to guard me. That was my mindset. And with him, Coach P., he gave me the mindset of, all right, I can shoot.

No, I didn't think my shooting would get me to this point, but I just prepared like I was going against all the guys that wanted me to shoot. Like, all right. Fine. You guys are going to pay eventually. And that's been my preparation ever since then.

Q. The elbow dunk, did you think about doing that?
DONOVAN MITCHELL: Yeah, but I saw what happened to Blake that one year where he had all those scars on his arm. So I was like, I'm not 6'10", and if that's happening to him and he's 6'10", well, one, I might slip off and you never know. So I just wanted to be careful.

Q. You go by different monikers. You've got The Spider and you've got Dr. Dunkenstein. What is your favorite nickname?
DONOVAN MITCHELL: Spider, for sure. Dr. Dunkenstein is for Darrell Griffith and Darrell Griffith only. That's his name, and I prefer Spider for sure.

Q. Your team has won 11 games in a row. You had the 40-point game in the big fourth quarter against San Antonio. Now you win the dunk contest. Can you describe what this last month has been like?
DONOVAN MITCHELL: A whirlwind, honestly. It's been a fun month. It started with Ricky's (Rubio) play. Really returned and the streak I'm talking about, Ricky just came out averaging like 28, 6 and 7 for his first four games before he got hurt. He really set the tone with that streak.

When he came in, I call him a different Ricky. He came in, he was more vocal, locked in. He wasn't smiling as much. He looked really serious and just completely changed. I think we all kind of fed off of that.

One thing about our team is you can't tell if we're on an 11-game winning streak or 11-game losing streak. We're always happy. We're always happy to be around each other, and that's not always the case in the NBA, I'm starting to figure out.

We enjoy each other's company on and off the floor, and that builds trust and you have faith in your teammates on the court once you start to build that chemistry off the court. Yeah, this month has been insane.

Q. As someone who is clearly completely impartial, how do you think this win should influence the Rookie of the Year race?
DONOVAN MITCHELL: Not at all. Not at all I don't think. I don't think this should influence it at all. It's a great award and I'm very honored and happy to have it, but I think Rookie of the Year is based on one how your team does, how you impact your team, and I wouldn't say statistics. There is a lot more to it than that.

But I don't think the Slam Dunk Contest should -- I mean, if it does, that would be cool. But I don't think it should, personally.

Q. Was it your idea to include Jordan or was it Jordan's idea?
DONOVAN MITCHELL: It was my idea. She didn't like it at first. Because I've never jumped over her, but I've jumped over people taller than her, so I was like I can definitely jump over you. No problem. She didn't feel confident with it. So I said, scooch down a little bit if you feel confident in doing that. Then it was my idea to add Kevin Hart in there. But she was very nervous during the practices and all that. But I'm glad she was there for me.

Q. Why was it important to you to make sure Jordan was included?
DONOVAN MITCHELL: Growing up she's been to so many games. She's missed so many parties with friends. It's tough sometimes being a popular athlete's sibling. Lot of people don't know that. She's sat in the car for hours while I've had games. She's done a lot, and I'm getting kind of emotional just saying all this. But, yeah -- she's a trooper. She's been there. She's driven in the car 14 hours with my mom to Louisville and watched the game and then drove back the same night.

To have a sister that's dedicated to doing that, to bring her out here for All-Star Weekend, she met Gabrielle Union, she freaked out. She took a picture of Odell Beckham. And all she does is show me videos of that guy: Did you see him do this, did you see him do that?

So to have her out here and see all this, I'm glad I could give this to her and have her be a part of it. And her followers will go up, too, so I think she'll be happy about that.

Q. Since most of us are unable to dunk, can you describe the feeling you get when you're flying through mid-air and slamming the ball through the basket?
DONOVAN MITCHELL: I think it's two different feelings. In the dunk contest you're only focused on like, I need to make this. I think it's different. In a game obviously you need to make the two points. Don't get me wrong. It's not okay to miss dunks, but you're just focused on power dunking. In the dunk contest you get to a certain point where the adrenaline's there, so you're not worried about your legs. It's more so the concentration. And if you look at my face, I kind of bite my lip and I either look really happy or really angry. It's just me trying to dunk the ball as hard as I can. And my vein is throbbing right now, to be honest with you.

But I try to dunk it as hard as I can. Because being my height it's not normal to see guys dunk as hard as I do.

Q. With you being a dunk fanatic that you are, watching all the past slam dunk winners, what do you feel like it's done for watching the careers, and what happened once they've won a dunk contest?
DONOVAN MITCHELL: There's cases where it's propelled guys. There are some guys, you know, who are just really, really good dunkers. But one of my favorites is Gerald Green. Outside of Vince Carter, obviously. You look at Michael Jordan's one, Dominique's one, but Gerald Green is one of my favorites, and look what he's doing in Houston. It's just a matter of how you take it.

I think it definitely builds a lot of hype around your name, but I'm going to continue being the same kid that, to be honest, a lot of you didn't know going to Utah. I'm going to be honest. I'm going to keep being that kid. Despite being the slam dunk champion. I'm still the same 13th draft pick. I got drafted to Utah, and we're going to be the same team that's hopefully continuing a multiple-game winning streak. But the biggest thing is not letting this get to here and just continuing to stay grounded and stay even keeled.

Q. In your first season with the Utah Jazz, who has been the biggest mentor for you, what player?
DONOVAN MITCHELL: I think it -- I don't want to say changes, but it depends on offense or defensive. Defensively I asked Thabo Sefolosha probably a million questions. Growing up I watched -- a big LeBron fan, and he gave LeBron fits in The Finals. He's played with Kevin Durant, played with Westbrook. Seen guys prepare, seen guys work.

So I ask him a thousand questions about everything. I asked him what does he eat? How does he stretch? After a long road trip, how does he do this? And I think he's been one of the biggest life advisors for me. Just figuring it out. And good thing with that, he never gets annoyed with it. It could be something as little as why can't I eat P.F. Chang's the night before a game, and something like that, and he'll give me his input. He's like one time I had McDonald's before a game, and it was the worst decision of my life.

Offensively, being next to Ricky has helped me a lot. I've been trying to become a better passer. That's been one of my things. Obviously, he's one of the best. He throws behind-the-back passes for no reason and they're right on target. So, in the Rising Stars game, I told him I'm just trying to be like you. Trying to get 15 assists. Unfortunately, I didn't get that, but it just depends.

Joe Ingles has been big for my confidence down the stretch. I haven't been shooting the ball pretty well, and in fourth quarters he looks at me and it's like, all right, it's time. Whatever happened the first three quarters is over with. This is the time to go. When you have teammates like that that are receptive and listen and allow you to ask questions as a rookie and don't feel threatened, I guess, that's the biggest thing.

In the league there are guys, oh, you play the same position as me, I'm not going to answer anything like that. But the team we have is not like that at all. We all want success for each other, and I think it's great to have teammates like that.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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