Mitchell’s motor in high gear as Cats keep rolling in SEC

Published 10:51 am Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Tre Mitchell never complains and doesn’t get rattled on or off the court. He doesn’t even take Kentucky coach John Calipari seriously at times.

His even-keeled approach has been a much-needed fixture in Kentucky’s first two games in the Southeastern Conference. Coming off a double-double outing in a win at Florida last Saturday, Mitchell duplicated the feat with 20 points and 14 rebounds to lead the sixth-ranked Wildcats to a 90-77 win over Missouri Tuesday night.

It’s the kind of performances Calipari has been yearning for from his senior forward since the season began and Mitchell is coming through as the Wildcats (12-2, 2-0) navigate through a conference schedule that will only get tougher as the season progresses.

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“It’s never been about (his confidence),” Calipari said. “When his motor runs, he can double up.”

He’s also felt less pressure since Aaron Bradshaw and Ugonna Onyenso have returned to the court. Having help in the post has given Mitchell more freedom to roam to and from the perimeter, allowing him to display his versatility.

“It’s just a matter of staying active and getting after it,” he said. “Aaron draws a lot of attention and I’m on the perimeter post underneath the hoop. I’m able to create different angles and get around people that way. I’m doing whatever the team needs me to do.”

While Mitchell has collected his share of points this season, he’s part of a squad filled with scorers. For the second straight game, the Wildcats placed five players in double figures. Rob Dillingham took his turn at leading the team in scoring with a career-high 23 points against the Tigers. D.J. Wagner followed with 16, Antonio Reeves with 14 and Bradshaw with 10.

“At any given given night (anyone can lead the team in scoring),” Mitchell said. “We’re loaded. We have dudes that can do everything, and nights like tonight, some people might not have it going, you know, and the rest of us would pick the slack up.”

Being a leader goes beyond scoring and for Mitchell, he’s a soothing presence for his teammates and his coach.

“If I say something that’s funny, he laughs. Like he also (does) when I get on him,” Calipari said. “I got on him yesterday in the locker room about something. I can’t remember what it was, but I kind of needled him without looking at him. He said, ‘Well, the guy may be struggling because you’re drawing up six plays in a timeout. We don’t know which one we’re running.’ He said that to me, which I sometimes do.

“I love coaching him, I love it, and I love how he is as a teammate.”

For Mitchell, he’s simply enjoying being in the moment.

“I’ve learned a lot everywhere I’ve been,” he said. “This is my last go at this. I’m able to draw on my experiences and, and really figure out where I can fit in. I think Cal does a great job of giving us freedom to play, you know, we’re not stuck in the system.”

It’s a system that has been successful so far this season, especially in the first two conference games of the season.