When I saw Joe Mitchell play basketball at Southeast High, I got motion sickness. The guy wouldn't slow down.
The 6-foot-1 Mitchell was everywhere, including places he wasn't supposed to be. His energy was at once commendable and detrimental. He was, at times, a 100-watt bulb in a 40-watt socket.
A calmer, more methodical Mitchell is on display for the Hutchinson Blue Dragons this season, a team that is 14-0 and ranked No. 2 nationally.
Mitchell, a sophomore, leads Hutch in scoring with 19.1 points. He's a rebounder, passer and defender, a complete player who has learned to tone things down so that he can get the most out of his abilities.
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Hutchinson coach Steve Eck loves Mitchell's energy and has helped him learn to channel it by trusting Mitchell with the ball in his hands.
Eck has made Mitchell a team leader and Mitchell has made Eck look smart in doing so.
"In high school,'' Mitchell said, "I never slowed down. It was pedal to the metal all the time. Here, Coach Eck has always told me to slow down some. Once I got my game under control better, more things started to open up.''
Mitchell, who helped Southeast win a Class 6A championship during his junior season, still buzzes around the basketball court. In 14 games, the hard-charging guard has been to the free-throw line 120 times, a number indicative of his aggressive nature.
But Mitchell, Eck says, is choosing his spots. He's playing smarter. And he's been the best player on one of the best junior-college teams in the country.
"I watched Joe for so many years when he was growing up and I knew he was a tough kid,'' said Eck, who used City Leaguers to reach high levels of success at Butler, Redlands (Okla.) and Cowley community colleges before arriving at Hutchinson last season. "I knew how I was going to use him here and I'm not surprised he's this good.''
Eck began his coaching career 30-or-so years ago at Jardine Middle School in Wichita. There, he coached some of Mitchell's relatives, including his mother, Gretta, and some uncles and aunts.
"They were all competitors,'' Eck said. "But their personalities were fun-loving. It was just enjoyable to coach them. I pushed them to work harder. Gretta might say something like, 'Oh, Coach Eck,' but then she'd do what she was asked.''
Joe Mitchell inherited that work ethic. He wants to be great and he does the things necessary to get there.
"He's doing well, just fine,'' Eck said.
And if you know Eck, you know that's about as exuberant as he gets about a player. A "just fine" from Eck is comparable to an "Awesome, baby!'' from Dick Vitale.
Asked if Mitchell had exceeded his expectations, Eck said: "My expectations are always pretty high with my players. I'm not sure you can exceed my expectations.''
Mitchell's numbers are exceedingly good. There are the points, of course, but also the 5.2 rebounds, the 4.2 assists, the 54.1-percent shooting, the 81.7-percent free-throw shooting.
"I'm doing a little bit of everything but I feel like that's what I have to do,'' Mitchell said. "Coach tells us we all need to rebound and find ways to contribute. I just do what I can when I'm on the floor.''
Mitchell is rarely off the floor, averaging about 32 minutes. He has opened a lot of eyes and could have signed with a Big 12 or Pac-10 school. Instead, he has signed with Ohio University, which last season knocked off Georgetown in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
"I just felt like I can make more of an impact in the MAC (Mid-American Conference) than the Big 12 or some other big conference,'' Mitchell said. "Maybe we can get more of the national spotlight at Ohio and in the MAC. It's the right school for me.''
Mitchell said he connected with Ohio assistant Jamall Walker, who played for Eck at South High in the 1990s. Former Wichita State athletic director Jim Schaus is the AD at Ohio.
"It felt like family when I went up there to visit,'' Mitchell said. "Everybody welcomed me with open arms.''
First things first, though, and Mitchell's focus is on Hutch, which looks like the kind of team that could be playing on its home floor in March during the junior college national tournament.
"Joe has a really good pace to his game now,'' Eck said. "I thought that was one of the things he needed to work on when he came here. It's a matter of maturity. He's slowed down some and he has a good pace now.''
Mitchell was part of a loaded Southeast team and he struggled at times to find his niche. He figured that the more frenetic his pace, the more he could help the team. It wasn't always that way.
"Coming up at Southeast, there were a lot of good players ahead of me,'' Mitchell said. "Guys like Adonis (Gantt), Jordan (Cyphers) and (Cortez) Barnes. So I had to really learn to play a role. Before I got to Southeast, I was really a nobody basketball-wise. I played middle-school ball, but I wasn't outstanding.''
By slowing down some, Mitchell has discovered the outstanding basketball player within.