Raquan Mitchell developing into more than an athlete for CSU basketball

Colin Barnard

Colorado State guard Raquan Mitchell realized something in his junior year of high school.

Before then, Mitchell starred as a multi-position athlete in football for Miami Southridge High School, playing running back, wide receiver, cornerback and safety. After finding his way to the basketball court during the second semester of his junior season, though, it only took one game for Mitchell to realize his talents.

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Well, actually, just one play.

“It was the first play of the first game, coach set up a play. I did the tip against a 7-footer, I won it, and then he threw it up, threw a lob (for an alley-oop),” Mitchell said.

Mitchell dunks
Colorado State University sophomore guard Raquan Mitchell hangs on the rim after dunking against Air Force on Tuesday, Feb. 6. (Davis Bonner | Collegian)

Standing 6 feet 2 inches tall at the time, the athletic specimen showed why so many schools began to covet his abilities. Mitchell’s talents on the basketball court blossomed during his senior season at Southridge where he averaged 22.1 points and 5.2 rebounds per game en route to earning third-team All-State recognition.

Following his first AAU game, Mitchell received nine NCAA offers. He doesn’t recall if he did anything special in the game, but he knew the scouts liked to see him play. After the offers came pouring in, Mitchell’s career in basketball presented itself in tangible fashion.

Three years and two colleges later, Mitchell found himself as part of CSU’s 2017 recruiting class. Nearing the end of his first season in Fort Collins, the dynamic guard is living up to the lofty expectations that come with somebody that athletic.

“The kid’s a freak, he’s an absolute freak,” guard Prentiss Nixon said. “You can put the ball up anywhere around the rim and he’ll go get it. He blocks shots, crazy, to the third row. We’re about the same height so it’s really amazing to see. I’ve probably never seen no one jump that high. I love to see it and I love to have him on my team rather than play against him.”

Leading up to his arrival in Fort Collins, whispers surfaced of a rumored 45-inch vertical. Videos of his play at South Plains College appeared to back the notions, but even then it was difficult to imagine just how extraordinary his athleticism is.

Mitchell silenced any doubters in the Rams’ exhibition match against Colorado Mesa during which he soared to block a 3-point attempt before leaping from just inside the elbow and slamming on a CMU defender.

He showed the same talent a month later, flushing a one-handed alley-oop with authority against Oregon. Now engrained in conference play, these highlight-reel plays are a common occurrence, sometimes coming multiple times per game.

And when he connects on a momentum-changing dunk or block, the crowd is quick to show its appreciation.

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“It feels great to know that you’re doing something positive for the game,” Mitchell said in regards to fans’ reactions to his play. “I like that feeling, I’m just trying to do it more and more. Whenever it comes, it comes.”

Raquan Mitchell attacks the rim in an exhibition contest against Colorado-Mesa on Nov. 3. (Javon Harris | Collegian)
Raquan Mitchell attacks the rim in an exhibition contest against Colorado-Mesa on Nov. 3. (Javon Harris | Collegian)

Though Mitchell’s athleticism was always present, his confidence shooting the ball needed improvement. When guards Nixon and J.D. Paige went down with injuries, Mitchell’s role with CSU increased, whether or not he was ready.

Since Nixon’s injury against Air Force on Jan. 17, Mitchell has averaged nearly 12 points per game. Prior to the injury, Mitchell averaged less than five points per game. Despite being on the bench, Nixon’s ability to coach Mitchell is instrumental in his uptick in production.

“We’ve been talking a lot since I’ve been out,” Nixon said. “Just trying to help him see things differently, pick your spots when to jump up and shoot it, tuck the elbow and things like that. Just helping on the technical stuff with the jump shot, and it’s paid off.”

Early in the season, Mitchell’s offensive confidence lacked. Following a loss against Missouri State at the end of November during which Mitchell played a season-low nine minutes and was held scoreless, Nixon encouraged his teammate to remain positive.

“I was telling him, ‘Just stay with it, it’ll come with time,’” Nixon said about their conversation following the game. “Now you see, (against Nevada) he was shooting step-back jump shots, step-back 3s. Confidence is key, it comes over time. I think everyone’s confidence develops in their own time. I think his is just starting to take off right now.”

Finding yet another way to utilize his athleticism, Mitchell’s step-back jumper is developing into a thing of beauty. In the opening portion of the game against Nevada, the sparkplug continued to drive into defenders on the wing, plant his foot and spring back three feet to create plenty of separation and knock down the shot.

Mitchell opened the game 4-for-5 from the field in the first five minutes for nine early points, most of which came from the step-back jumper. He showcased the potential that comes when freakish athleticism, fundamentals and confidence all coincide.

“I actually work on the step-back every day,” Mitchell said. “It’s coming naturally to me now.”

Equally as important is the physical ability he possesses, Mitchell’s yearning for improvement has caught the eye of interim head coach Steve Barnes.

“Boy has he come on. He’s such a good kid about learning stuff and he’s just getting better and better and better,” Barnes said. “He’s really receptive, he’s a guy that you can tell him something and he tries to put it in.”

Sophomore guard Raquan Mitchell drives to the hoop during the first half of action against the UNLV Rebels on Jan. 20 at Moby Arena. The Rams fell to the Rebels 79-74. (Elliott Jerge | Collegian)

Despite Mitchell’s continuing success, the Rams’ season has turned into one of despair. CSU sits in 10th place in the Mountain West, ahead of only winless San Jose State. Injuries and coaching controversy changed the script at the beginning of conference play, and the Rams have failed to regain any momentum.

That hasn’t stopped young fans from looking up to members of the program. Mitchell realizes the impact that he can have through basketball, and it makes him strive for greatness every game.

“It feels great to know that someone is looking up to you,” he said. “It makes you want to play harder and show them that you can do more, that they can be something like you, you’re a role model to them. I try to do better and better every game.”

And a superhero soaring through the air is never a bad option to look up to.

Collegian sports director Colin Barnard can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @ColinBarnard_.