Prep Basketball All-Stars Hold Court Tonight : Got a Game Scheduled? Be Sure You Include Mater Dei's Mitchell

Times Staff Writer

Pardon Mike Mitchell if he appears to be in a hurry these days. But the multi-talented Mater Dei High School star has a hectic schedule what with graduation, senior activities, all-star games and summer leagues.

The 6-foot 6-inch senior will be the starting forward tonight for the North team in the 20th Orange County All-Star basketball game at Orange Coast College's Peterson Gym. But before he puts on his sneakers, he's scheduled for a two-hour workout at 10 a.m. today at Saddleback High in preparation for the Orange County All-Star football game next Friday at Santa Ana Stadium.

Mitchell will be a starting wide receiver for the South team in the football game, which means he'll be the first prep player in county history to play for the North team in the basketball game and the South squad for the football game.

Mitchell excels in both sports. Although he played in only five football games, he caught 32 passes for 467 yards and averaged 14.6 yards per reception. On the basketball court, Mitchell averaged 14.6 points per game and was considered the premier defensive player in the county.

"I decided before my senior season that I was going to concentrate on basketball," Mitchell said. "But it drove me crazy watching the football team from the stands. I missed football.

"I love catching the ball, and I try to stay away from the contact. I was surprised to be picked for the all-star football game because I only played half the season. This will be my last football game, so I want it to be a memorable one."

Mitchell has signed a national letter of intent to play basketball at Fresno State, where he hopes to replace graduating guard Mitch Arnold next season. Mitchell chose Fresno State over San Jose State and the University of Texas because of the Bulldogs' reputation for playing excellent defense.

"I've been looking at colleges since I was a junior and thought Fresno's emphasis on defense fit my style of play best," he said. "I have to beat out a senior for the off guard position, but my goal is to start as a freshman.

"I'm working on improving my shooting range by playing in the Pro-Am League at Inglewood High, and then I'm going to play in the Jr. Olympics Invitational Tournament in Florida in July."

But Mitchell hasn't ruled out football entirely.

"If something happens or if I don't get drafted after my senior year, I could exercise my option to play a fifth year at Fresno and go out for football," he said. "I enjoy playing both sports, and playing in both of these all-star games has been a lot of fun."

South Coach Jerry Witte of Saddleback said he had some reservations about Mitchell when he was selected to play in the football game, but has since changed his mind.

"He's only missed one practice and has worked very hard," Witte said. "I thought he might be a problem because I know basketball is his game. I called (Mater Dei football Coach) Chuck Gallo and Chuck assured me that Mike wanted to play in the football game very badly.

"I just hope we can get the football to him. He's got good hands, good speed (4.75 in the 40) and is a fine athlete. With his size, he's going to be very difficult to defend. I've never seen him play basketball, but I'm sure he would be good in any sport he played."

Mater Dei basketball Coach Gary McKnight, who will coach the North team tonight, isn't surprised that Mitchell has been able to handle the hectic schedule.

"Just look at him," McKnight said at a workout in Santa Ana's Cook Gymnasium. "Mike is always smiling. He's a great kid who has a lot to be happy about. He picked the perfect school where he can contribute right away. I know whatever Mike does, he'll always be happy because he loves life."

Mitchell plans to major in business marketing at Fresno State and is eager to play in Selland Arena, where Fresno's "Red Wave" rooting section is a fanatical support group.

"It's another Mater Dei and I won't have to change my clothes because the school has the same colors," he said.

The biggest change in Mitchell's game on the basketball court will be his transition from forward to guard. He's working on improving his shooting range from 10-12 feet to 15-17 feet. He showed a newfound confidence during a two-hour workout on Friday.

Mitchell was primary a baseline shooter at Mater Dei, but he consistently made jump shots from outside the key area in a heated workout and showed that he's easily the best player on the North team.

"You can see Mike's confidence in his outside shooting growing every day," McKnight said. "The only time he'll come off the court is if he gets tired."

Mitchell's major assignment will be to defend Dana Hills forward Bryan McSweeney, a two-time most valuable player in the South Coast League. McSweeney, who will attend Stanford University in the fall, averaged 20.8 points per game this season.

"I guarded Bryan in a summer league game at Foothill, and I think he scored 12 points against me," Mitchell said. "He's tough to guard because he can hit those 20-foot jump shots consistently.

"I think the only player I couldn't guard in high school was Matt Beeuwsaert (former Mater Dei teammate now at Notre Dame). Matt was tough inside or outside. I've been playing him one-on-one since he got back, and he always gives me a run for the money."

Mitchell, who plays every day, competes in halfcourt, three-on-three pickup games at Newport Beach during the summer.

"I go down there a lot with Mike Kelly," he said. "We play to 11 against a lot of older guys and we don't get beat very often."

Mitchell said he doesn't plan on losing tonight's game, either.

"I think we're a little more physical inside than the South," he said. "We do have some guys who like to mix it up and bang inside. It should be a good game."

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