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Season opener will be a special one for Donovan Mitchell, Eric Paschall

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)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell's mind still floods with the memories of growing up with Eric Paschall in Westchester County, New York.

He remembers the 2.5 hour drives through heavy New York traffic just to get to practice. He can still clearly picture the McDonald's off the Bronx River Parkway that was a frequent stop. He laughs at the thought of playing NBA2k for hours at Paschall's house where he would often play with his new teammate Rudy Gay

There are full circle moments and then there are full circle moments. On Wednesday, when the Jazz tip off their season against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Vivint Arena (7 p.m., AT&T SportsNet), the two kids who grew up in the same neighborhood will be teammates in an NBA game.

"It'll be a little emotional," Mitchell said. "It's still weird seeing him every day — in a good way. It's like, man, this really happened."

The fact that it happened makes Paschall not only emotional but laugh. If only because of how Mitchell played back in their days at AAU.

As Paschall tells it, Mitchell was a one-hit wonder. Sure, he had his trademark bounce, but that was about all. He would drive right, jump high and try to dunk it. All the things that he's known for now — his intricate footwork, the tight handle, the off-balance finishes, the long-range shooting — were nowhere to be seen.

"It's hilarious for me to see," Paschall said. "All the stuff you see Donovan doing now, he didn't do none of that in AAU."

To be fair, Paschall didn't have much of his skill-set yet, either. The third-year forward who is known for his bully-ball ways was actually a thin kid. It's hard to overpower defenders when you aren't at all stronger than them.

"I was skinny as hell. Like, I was super skinny," Paschall laughed.

So he ran the floor and caught lobs. That was pretty much the extent of it.

It's a testament to the two's work ethic that they morphed from those players into the NBA ones they are today.

Mitchell has turned into one of the best offensive talents in the game; Paschall has transformed his body and made himself a valuable NBA role player. It was in those AAU gyms, after those long drives to practice, that they each developed the mindset that allowed them to do just that.

Fair or not, there was a stigma attached to them since they came from outside the city. They were seen as soft and not tested. They had to overcome that.

"His mindset is just to prove people wrong," Paschall said of Mitchell.

That was the case then, and it's remained all these years later. Mitchell went from a one-trick pony to a dynamic offensive threat. Why stop now?

"We were known as the two kids from Westchester," Paschall said. "I feel like we've accomplished a lot."

Now, they are doing it side by side in the NBA. It's something their parents, who took them on those long drives to practice, wouldn't have allowed themselves to dream about all those years ago.

Their families will both be in town for the season opener and, as Mitchell said, it'll probably get a little emotional.

"I think my mom will definitely cry for sure. I know his mom will as well," Mitchell said.

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