Weeks after Al Freeman’s transfer, presumably opening minutes at the shooting guard position, Mitchell announced his transfer from Baylor.
A week later, it was made known that Mitchell will be transferring to Trinity Valley Community College, near Dallas.
A big Valley welcome to Wendell Mitchell -- a MBB transfer from Baylor. pic.twitter.com/5kOu33w9in— TVCC Sports (@TVCCsports) September 6, 2017
And boy, I am confused. It’s difficult to see the rationale behind Mitchell’s decision. Let’s take a look at what Mitchell is walking away from and try to discern his possible reasons for leaving the Bears.
Last season, Mitchell had already begun to earn playing time as a reserve. He averaged nearly 9 minutes a game, scoring just short of 3 points on an average of 2.5 shots. In Baylor’s dismal loss at West Virginia, Mitchell was the only Bear who seemed capable of shaking off the funk. He showed nice progress throughout the season. All indications pointed to an increased role for him as he matured and slowed down his game just a bit. The occasional recklessness (reminiscent of a young Taurean Prince) was forgivable, and he projects to be an exciting player.
To boot, minutes had just opened up at Mitchell’s position next season after the transfer of Freeman. Looking at the depth chart, King McClure is the only other shooting guard not just ahead of Mitchell, but on the roster at all. The roster situation after Freeman’s departure almost necessitated an increase in Mitchell’s role. Pair the roster situation with Drew’s tendency to increase player responsibility year over year, and Mitchell was almost a lock to play 20+ minutes per game.
On its face, it doesn’t look like positional competition would be a reason for Mitchell to transfer to a JUCO school. There is a more complicated way to think about it, though.
So other than McClure, there is no other player on the roster with that “SG” next to his name. That doesn’t mean that McClure and Mitchell would have been the only guys to play at the off guard spot.
Scott Drew has shown a tendency to play guys out of position. Even last season, current Baylor football tight end Ish Wainright played a little power forward. McClure sometimes slid up to small forward in those lineups. There were also plenty of times when Jake Lindsey, often Wainright’s backup at small forward, would play point guard. Occasionally, he would share the back court with Manu Lecomte, with Lecomte playing off the ball as a spot-up threat whirling around baseline screens. Sure, Baylor had three nominal shooting guards last season (when Freeman wasn’t suspended), but Lecomte was as lethal off ball as on, a skill Drew used to his advantage when non-shooters like Lindsey and Wainright shared the floor.
Drew’s solution to losing Freeman might well have been to play Lecomte off the ball even more, limiting the minutes that would have otherwise been available to Mitchell. Tyson Jolly and Mark Vital, coming off redshirt seasons, will give Drew more versatile tools to play with. Lindsey will presumably start at small forward, but it’s easy to envision him playing a lot of point guard minutes alongside McClure or Lecomte. Drew could then stagger Lecomte and McClure at the off guard spot while Vital and Nuni Omot hold down the small forward position. Jolly, with some decent college height at 6-4, could also play positions one through three, depending on what skill would be needed to complement his teammates. He can handle the ball to maximize Lecomte’s shooting, and he can move off ball to allow Lindsey to initiate. And just like that, with Lindsey, Lecomte, and McClure shifting between multiple positions, Mitchell might have been looking at 12 minutes a game instead of 22.
This kind of scheme would put a lot of pressure on Lindsey to play for long stretches of time. Now that Mitchell is out the door, look for some wild substitution patterns centered around Lindsey’s versatility.
If Mitchell had stuck around, however, and demonstrated improvement in his decision-making, he could have alleviated some of that strain and made the rotations a bit simpler for Drew. Even at 15-17 minutes a game, Mitchell could have given each of Lecomte, McClure, and Lindsey a breather by playing off guard and by spot filling at point guard. For a sophomore by eligibility, 15-17 minutes a game isn’t too shabby.
Still, it seems as though that might not have been enough for Mitchell. As a dominant scorer and ball handler in high school, he may feel as though he should have the ball in his hands more with the green light to #DoStuff. Transferring to a junior college will certainly give him the opportunity to put up a lot of shots. Ironically, a season at the JUCO level could turn Mitchell into exactly the type of guard Drew loves to target as a transfer. It’s not hard to imagine Mitchell developing a profile comparable to the likes of Pierre Jackson, Kenny Cherry, and Lester Medford. The latter, in particular, could be a decent comparison for what Mitchell might look like after playing against a lower level of competition.
Even so, this transfer still doesn’t make much sense for a player in Mitchell’s position. Let’s say that his plan is something like what was just suggested, to use JUCO to boost himself to a more prominent role at a high level program. That course necessitates a year out of the spotlight to work on his game before potentially returning to a larger stage. He already had exactly that course in front of him at Baylor, apart from the potential for him to put up more shots in junior college. Let’s chart it out. Mitchell has three years of college eligibility remaining. His sophomore year would likely be spent as a semi-prominent backup. He would likely see more burn his junior season, although there is certainly potential for him to remain a backup with McClure, Lindsey, and Jolly still in the program with Makai Mason incoming. Come senior year, however, the floor could potentially be his. McClure, Lindsey, and Mason would all be graduated, leaving a guard spot vacant for Mitchell, as a veteran player, to step into the spot light. We can call this the Taurean Prince plan. Mitchell could have incrementally improved his game, challenged incumbent starters for their position, and eventually inherited a lead role.
Unless Mitchell is transferring for personal reasons, he’s transferring to circumvent an outcome like the one outlined above. Whether it’s impatience to have the ball in his hands, to start, or to put up more shots, Mitchell has not opted to go the route that would endear him to Baylor fans for years to come. That’s not to say he’s taking the easy way out. Playing at the JUCO level hoping to get picked up by a bigger program is no guaranteed success story. Either Mitchell’s impatience or personal pride is pushing him to find a situation where he can be more prominent (not necessarily a bad thing), or he has a more personal reason for going elsewhere to finish out college, whether it’s chemistry troubles with teammates or coaches, difficulty with classes, wanting to be in a smaller environment (he attended a small 1A high school, so it might be possible he is looking for that vibe again), or a family matter.
In the end, Mitchell’s transfer is hard to understand as a smart basketball move. Baylor fans will certainly wish him well in all his future endeavors, but we will have a hard time understanding why he had to go.