Justin Mitchell knows how it looked to outsiders.
Averaging double digits for Wright State in January of 2018, the former Wayne High School standout abruptly walked away from the team in his senior season, leaving behind more questions than answers.
Who leaves a team in the middle of a season?
“A lot of people think I quit,” Mitchell said. “But I needed time mentally and they didn’t understand that.
It was definitely tough taking time away from something I love.”
Snap judgments are easy, particularly when it comes to athletes who walk away from their teams. But Justin’s story isn’t that cut and dry.
In June of 2012, Justin’s father Gregory Mitchell was shot and killed in Fort Wayne during a home invasion. Dad was exceptionally generous, working with youth in the community and trying to set a good example for his children.
The lives of Gregory’s family was thrown into upheaval following his death, including Justin and his brothers Jescus and Levi. Over the course of the last seven years, all three of the Mitchell brothers have had to deal with the emotional and mental pain of losing their dad.
At times, Justin’s pain or that of his brothers has derailed life’s plans.
“Our dad being taken away from us has been the biggest thing we have had to deal with in our lives,” Justin Mitchell said. “Lots of things happened with my brother Jescus where he changed as a person and he had to overcome so much.”
But the Mitchell brothers have persevered. Jescus has gotten involved in real estate. Levi has moved to Kansas City while Justin continues to find his way in basketball.
Options looked few after leaving Wright State, but Justin found an opportunity across the Atlantic Ocean. Signed by the Basel Starwings of the Swiss Basketball League, the highest tier of hoops in Switzerland, Mitchell thrived.
Overall, Mitchell averaged 13 points, 6.3 rebounds and five assists per game for the Starwings. The guard earned eight game MVPs and was the only player in the league to notch a triple-double.
“I met some great people, including some Americans who helped me with the transition,” Mitchell said. “I loved the overall experience.”
Now, Mitchell is back in Fort Wayne, working out and hoping to get another shot at the pro level. While he is open to playing international ball again, he is hoping to land an opportunity closer to home. Being close to friends and family, particularly his brothers, is important.
But Mitchell also wants to spread the word about his story. The struggles he has went through both on the court and within his family are not unique.
“The one thing I know is that some kids have it worse,” Mitchell said. “I am not the only person who has had a father or family member killed. You have to remember that life is bigger than just you. You have to keep pushing.”
The hope for Mitchell is that push eventually leads to bigger things on the court.
“My goal has always been the NBA,” Mitchell said. “My main focuses are wanting to stay home and make the right connections around the city. I would love to play with the Mad Ants and try and work myself up. I am willing to learn on that level. I feel like I have never been given the opportunity to meet the right people in that business and I am so open to learning.
“Whether I fail or not, I have learned how to overcome setbacks, and that is the most important lesson in life.”