Why Dee Mitchell, Oklahoma State's newest scholarship basketball player, cherishes viral moment: 'It means the world'
STILLWATER — Dee Mitchell thought he was simply taking a safety evaluation Sunday evening in a back room of Walmart. He was even sneaking in a Zoom with his Oklahoma State teammates.
Suddenly, his manager rushed in saying he needed to clean up a mess outside right away.
Instead, Cowboys coach Mike Boynton and his staff were waiting with a laptop featuring Mitchell’s teammates on Zoom, camera crew and some huge news.
Mitchell was no longer just a walk-on. He had earned a scholarship.
Mitchell was immediately overwhelmed with emotion in a video that went viral by Monday morning, making the rounds on social media and even appearing on NBC’s “Today.”
“It means the world,” Mitchell said Tuesday morning. “You know, helping out my family, taking that burden off of them with tuition and everything. I just appreciate it.”
For the past two years, Mitchell has been an important piece of the Cowboys program as an example of hard work and perseverance, finding his way onto the team and the court at important moments. Finally, Boynton was able to pay him back in a huge way.
A scholarship lessens the burden on a family hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
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“I think he’s a great example of what life is really about,” Boynton said. “He’s a guy who young kids should look at and say, ‘Hey, don’t let your circumstances dictate how you go about your everyday life.’ You never know when that opportunity presents itself.
“I don’t know if he would say he’s been through a lot. Everybody’s been through a lot. I would say the way he’s handled going through this is what’s most impressive.”
Mitchell spent last semester working 30-40 hours per week at Walmart, stocking shelves, helping customers, tossing old produce and whatever else was needed. He also took 19 hours of classes.
All while remaining on the basketball team. He worked out at 6 a.m., went to study hall and class and then often to Walmart for a shift from noon to 10 p.m. On his days away from the store, he practiced with the Cowboys in the afternoon.
During games he did not suit up for — he’s been in uniform twice this season — he popped in ear buds to listen.
“I’m not supposed to, but …” Mitchell said with a sheepish grin.
Mitchell did all of this to help pay his tuition and the bills at home in Jefferson, Texas. His mom, Cassandra, is a traveling nurse. But the pandemic reduced her hours.
Money became tight.
Mitchell spoke with Boynton and explained the situation. Mitchell needed to help his family. Boynton agreed to let Mitchell stay with the program and be around when he could.
Boynton admits Mitchell is one of his all-time favorite players to coach. He even said if he had one player who his son, Ace, would emulate, it would be Mitchell.
“I mean that with every fiber of my being, because this basketball thing, it’s got a shelf life,” Boytnon said. “But what Dee Mitchell has lasts forever. He’s got resilience, perseverance, great attitude, unbelievable work ethic, respectful.”
Mitchell first tried to join the Cowboys before the 2018-19 season as a walk-on, but Boynton said there was no room for Mitchell. He tried out again in January 2019 after Boynton dismissed four players. Mitchell then made the team.
He hit a big 3-pointer against Texas Tech soon after. Last season, he even started two games and was a key bench piece at times.
This season, Mitchell’s role was limited due to his work schedule and the pandemic. OSU isn’t suiting up walk-on players due to spacing in the bench area.
But Mitchell never slowed down.
“Just effort,” Mitchell said. “Just wanting to be better than I am. Just striving and having goals. I was raised that way. My family instilled that in me to always try my best and put effort into whatever I wanted to do.”
But now the big question remains. Will Mitchell continue working at Walmart?
He said he will meet with Boynton about that this week. Either way, Mitchell has earned every accolade that comes his way.
“Anybody who thinks that they’re going to play basketball and be more successful than Dee Mitchell is kidding themselves,” Boynton said. “Cade (Cunningham) is going to make a lot of money playing basketball. Ice (Isaac Likekele) probably will, too. We got a few guys that can play and make money.
“No one is going to be more successful than Dee Mitchell, because he gets it. He’s a walking, talking, breathing example of what this whole thing is supposed to be about.”
Cowboys sophomore Chris Harris Jr. recently underwent surgery on his left knee, ending his season. It’s the same knee Harris had surgically repaired last season. … Freshman guard Donovan Williams is also set for season-ending knee surgery, also on his surgically repaired left knee. Williams tore his left ACL in high school. … Sharpshooter Ferron Flavors Jr. will have his injured finger on his shooting hand re-evaluated this week. … Boynton confirmed freshman Montreal Pena’s departure from the program for personal reasons. Boynton said there’s a 50-50 chance that Pena returns in the future.
Jacob Unruh covers college sports for The Oklahoman. You can send your story ideas to him at email@example.com or on Twitter at @jacobunruh. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.