Donovan Mitchell is playing for a 'greater cause' with Jazz offering a college scholarship for every win

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SALT LAKE CITY — It all happened in an instant.

To avoid a certain charge on his drive to the hoop, Donovan Mitchell went air-borne, jumped around New Orleans Pelicans guard Eric Bledsoe and quickly examined for options.

Option 1: Try for an acrobatic layup. The angle was tough and there might be a better play; Mike Conley's hand was raised in the corner, after all.

Option 2: Hit Conley in the corner for the open three. Zion Williamson, though, had just rotated over to cover the passing lane, but that must have left something open.

Option 3: Pass to Bojan Bogdanovic, who Williamson had just left, for a wide-open three at the top of the arc. But could Mitchell get it to him, and did he even know he was there?

Mitchell somehow managed to throw a bullet of a pass to Bogdanovic and the Croatian forward did the rest, making the shot and adding yet another clip to Mitchell's lengthy highlight reel.

If Mitchell's mind could move that fast, maybe he was thinking about something else, too: What a wasted possession could mean to some kid whose life could change with a Jazz victory.

For every win this season, preseason included, Jazz owner Ryan Smith will offer a four-year scholarship to an underrepresented or minority student. So every Jazz victory now holds more weight than just a place in the standings, and that fact isn't lost on Mitchell and his teammates.

"I think it's one of the coolest things in the world, to be honest," Mitchell said of Smith's program.

Education has played a huge role in Mitchell's life. His mother, Nicole, worked in the education system in some capacity ever since Donovan was born and has instilled in him the importance of education. It's something that never left him even as he showed the potential to make it as a professional athlete.

In what very may have been a love letter to his mother, Mitchell donated $12 million to Greenwich Country Day, the school his mother worked at and where he attended from third to ninth grade, last month to help those who may not be able to afford the school.

Now with every made bucket, every rebound, every jaw-dropping assist, he can do the same thing.

"Obviously, you play for a championship and play to win, but you're playing for an even greater cause," Mitchell said. "I think that's just something that's just unmatched, and credit to Ryan Smith and his family and ownership for doing that because that's just really unheard of — especially with how many games that we play."

The Jazz have provided 13 scholarships for underrepresented students, which includes Utah's three preseason wins. And with the way Utah is playing, that number is expected to keep climbing — and quickly.

"When you're in the game, there are moments when you're like, 'This is changing somebody's life,'" Mitchell said. "It may not get to a point where it's like this turnover is messing it up, but you know what I'm saying. It's in your head, you think about it and every time we win, that's where our head goes."

Specific plans for how the initiative will be carried out and how the students will be selected have not yet been announced, but Smith said on an ESPN podcast earlier this month that he plans to approach multiple universities looking to partner with them.

"We will go to universities and say, 'Hey, we want five or six scholarships, guaranteed, we're going to bring kids who have never had a chance to do this into your university, and we're going to help cover the cost, will you accept them?'" Smith said on the podcast.

Smith said he hopes he'll be awarding at least 60 scholarships by the end of the season. But no one would mind if it was more — least of all the players.

"It's bigger than basketball," Mitchell said. "The goal is to win a championship, but for us to be able to win games and send kids to college and take care of it for four years, that's incredible. I'm definitely glad and blessed to be a part of it."

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