The hardest things to deal with, eventually, were ones Joe Mitchell couldn’t control.
“I was worried I might not get a chance to play basketball again, worried that another coach wouldn’t want to take a chance on me,” Mitchell said. “That maybe people might start to think because I was moving around schools that I was a bad guy.
“But (Dale Faber) was there for me. That was what mattered in the end.”
An ending that still hasn’t been written. Faber, in his 11th season as the coach at Friends, seems to have put together a team capable of contending for a KCAC title and maybe more thanks to his dogged pursuit of Mitchell.
“Fourth time we recruited him, we got him,” Faber said. “I think he respects the fact that my staff and myself never judged how he came here, we’re just happy to have him. And his goal is to win the last game of his senior year. That’s what matters the most ... when we visit with him, it’s about his current situation, not anyting in the past.”
After Mitchell, a 6-foot-1 guard, unexpectedly left Wichita State last winter, he was out of options on the Division I level after transferring to WSU from Ohio and sitting out the 2011-12 season with the Shockers. It seemed a lifetime away from when his All-State and All-Jayhawk West careers at Wichita Southeast and Hutchinson Community College came to an end and his options seemed endless.
“When you get in the situation I was in, you just fear the worst,” Mitchell said. “Leaving Ohio was entirely on me, my choice. Because I wanted to be closer to home. Then I just jumped at the opportunity to be at WSU because it seemed right, like I could come in and be a hometown favorite and do some good things.…”
Mitchell thought he should have received a scholarship from WSU after paying his way for one year, but there wasn’t one available. That’s when Faber stepped in and got Mitchell eligible for the second semester, averaging 15.2 points and 2.1 assists with the Falcons over the last 11 games. Friends went 8-3.
“(Mitchell) has got a little old school in his game,” Faber said. “He protects the basketball and gets his body in position where they can’t get through him ... he seems like he can always get the ball to the glass. He’s one of the few players I’ve had that instead of exploring matchups, we can explore where we want to put him on the floor.”
The Falcons, the KCAC preseason favorite, will need more than just Mitchell this season, though. And they’ve got plenty of pieces — 6-5 forward Colton Raush (13.1 points) and guard Zach Nelson (13.1 points) also return.
KCAC defensive player of the year Anthony White (13.1 points, 8.3 rebounds) is out indefinitely after knee surgery.
“We don’t know when he’ll be back and it kind of bums me out to even talk about it,” Faber said. “He’s a big part of our team, the best defensive player in the league ... we’ll need guys to step up who haven’t been in that role before.”
Faber is notoriously hard on point guards — with great results — and will give the ball to 6-1 sophomore Brett Williams.
“He played some minutes last season, but not a whole bunch,” Faber said. “He’s the kind of player everybody likes, and it’s important for me to like my point guard.”
But everything starts and ends with Mitchell.
“I’ve gotten a lot of double teams, so I’m having to be more of a facilitator and I’ve got great teammates that definitely make that a lot easier,” Mitchell said. “What I want for myself is to finish my career with a national championship and create an opportunity to go play overseas or professional somewhere ... but that’s going to take a lot of work. We’ve got all the pieces in place to do it.”