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'A big blessing': Donovan Mitchell, Eric Paschall — 2 childhood friends now on same team

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, left, guards Golden State Warriors forward Eric Paschall (7) in the first half during an NBA basketball game Friday, Nov. 22, 2019, in Salt Lake City.

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, left, guards Golden State Warriors forward Eric Paschall (7) in the first half during an NBA basketball game Friday, Nov. 22, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (Rick Bowmer, Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY — In the summer of 2019, Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell took the mic at the night's draft party of Eric Paschall.

The Villanova product had just been taken with a mid-second-round pick by the Golden State Warriors — later than he expected to be taken. But at that moment, he got some encouraging words from his longtime friend.

"Don't let 41 get in your head, bro," Mitchell said. "... You are one in 450 dudes in this world. Four-hundred and fifty, bro."

The odds of Mitchell and Paschall, two players who grew up "500 feet away from each other," according to Paschall, both making it into the same elite fraternity were already minuscule. The odds of them reuniting on the same team? That borders on the absurd.

Yet, that's the reality Mitchell and Paschall are living in. The sons of Westchester County, New York, are now both members of the Utah Jazz.

"I have known Don since I was like 6, 7," said Paschall, during his first press conference as a member of the Jazz. "Like, he grew up right down the street."

The two met while attending the Union Baptist Church in White Plains, New York, with their families. A couple of years later, Paschall arrived at a tryout for the Riverside Hawks AAU squad where the Upper West Side transitioned to Harlem to find Mitchell, then just a kid he saw at church, also putting up shots.

That AAU team formed the groundwork to their lasting relationship: Riverside Church AAU. It was a good distance away — about an hour drive — from where Paschall and Mitchell lived, and the two spent hours together, not only in the gym but also in car rides getting there.

"Our families put a lot into each other," Paschall said. "I mean, my dad used to drive him down; his parents used to drive me down."

Soon, the two were nearly inseparable — playing NBA2K and dreaming about where basketball could take them.

They were among the few on that AAU squad who were from outside the city. Together, they had to break the perception they were softer because of their suburban upbringing, and both made a point to outwork everyone else — even at that young age.

The two blossomed into two of the best prospects from the state.

They won the AAU national championship on The City squad together and played against each other in a prep school national championship game. Mitchell face-guarded Paschall and held him to 4 points to ensure his team would be victorious.

"He didn't even let me touch the ball!" Paschall said in 2019. "He's going to hold that story over my head. If you ask him about it, he's going to say the same thing, 'Oh, I locked him up.' We still go back and forth over that to this day."

In 2019, a farfetched dream became a reality: They played against each other in an NBA game.

Two years later, a more farfetched one has become true: They'll play on the same team.

For Paschall, he'll be looking to rebound from an up-and-down second season in the league. He was a surprise rookie success, averaging 14.0 points and 4.6 rebounds, and made the All-Rookie First Team while playing just 17 minutes a game last year and struggling to fit in with a more healthy Warriors squad.

"It's the start of a new journey," he said of his trade to Utah. "I mean, everybody has a different journey; and the fact that I get to get a fresh start with a new team is a great feeling. That's something I'm very excited about."

And being here with his longtime buddy just makes it that more special.

"We went through this together, and now that we're both here," Paschall said. "It's a big blessing."

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