North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams came to watch Shelton Mitchell at a Cuthbertson practice last week.
Cuthbertson coach Mike Helms told Mitchell the day before that Williams was coming. Alright, was the response.
The day of the visit, Helms asked Mitchell if he told anyone. He hadnt.
He didnt tell a soul. You know, most kids couldnt have kept that to themselves, Helms said.
Thats how Mitchell is handling the attention that comes with being one of the states top basketball recruiting prospects. The 6-foot-3 junior point guard is calm, level-headed and more than anything focused on taking his Cuthbertson team back to the state championship game.
Mitchell led Cuthbertson to a 31-2 season and the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 2A state championship game last year, where the Cavaliers lost to Kinston 58-55. Only one senior graduated from that squad.
I think were picking up where we left off last year, Mitchell said. Were coming in a lot more hungry just because we dont want that to happen again. We dont want to get that far then lose in the last minute like we did last year.
The Cavaliers return the top six players from last years team, including 6-0 senior guard Emmitt Afam (10.5 points per game) and 6-4 senior forward Isiah Cureton (9.4 points, 5.1 rebounds per game).
But Mitchell is the one that makes it all go for us, Helms said.
Mitchell grew up in Washington state and moved to North Carolina before seventh grade. He played varsity as an eighth grader at Covenant Day School. He transferred back to public school for high school, coming to Cuthbertson just one year after the school opened.
He started at point guard as a freshman and averaged 14.2 points and 4.6 assists. As a sophomore, his scoring average jumped to 23.4 points. He also averaged 4.5 assists and 2.7 steals last season.
Mitchell takes pride in being the coach on the floor and leading the team. Helms said he can just give the ball to Mitchell and trust that he will make the right decision.
Sheltons an unflappable kid, Helms said. Weve had teams that try to get rough and physical with him and it doesnt phase him at all. If anything it makes him turn his game up a little bit.
The unflappability carries over to the recruiting process. Mitchell is ranked as the No. 19 recruit in the 2014 class by ESPN. In addition to Williams, Helms said head coaches from Wake Forest, Clemson and N.C. State have come to see Mitchell play, as have many other assistant coaches.
Mitchell says he doesnt worry about it too much. He just plays. Helms said Mitchell barely looks at the recruiting letters that pile up daily in the coachs mailbox.
Roy Williams is sitting over there and it has no effect on him, Helms said. He handles all this attention far better than I would have at his age. Hes gotten so used to people being around and watching him that he doesnt think twice about it.
Mitchell sees the attention as a reward for the work hes put into basketball.
It shows the hard work is paying off. Basically, thats it, he said. All the times that Ive woken up and didnt want to work out, its actually working out for the best now.
Mitchell starts his day at 5:30 a.m., usually making it to the school by 6 a.m. He works out in the gym until 7:30. Then he takes a shower and gets ready for class. After school, he practices with the team, does his homework and does a final workout before bed.
Shelton is a very level-headed, hard-working kid, Helms said. He knows what he wants in life. He has a goal and hes going to do whatever it takes to attain it.
The work ethic is starting to rub off on other players. Helms said teammates have started showing up early to workout with Mitchell before school. They see how hard Mitchell works and have also seen the results.
They respect him, Helms said. They see the amount of work he puts in. He earns everything he gets. ... They see how hard he works so I think they respect that and that keeps the jealousy away.
Mitchell said he will start the process of selecting a college over the summer. He hopes to have a decision made by next August so that he can enjoy his senior season.
Until then, Mitchell is focusing on just two things: getting better and winning a state championship.
I dont know what Sheltons maximum potential is, but I know hes going to reach it, Helms said. Theres nothing thats going to stop him from reaching it. Youre never going to find a kid work harder than him.
Inscoe: 704-358-5923; Twitter: @CoreyInscoe
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