The Cairns Taipans have signed 198cm American forward Tony Mitchell for the remainder of the 2016/17 NBL season.
The 27-year old most recently played in China’s National Basketball League where he averaged 42.9 points across 27 games for Hebei Xianglan – including a 76-point outburst in a 156-123 win over Beijing.
The Georgia native played college hoops for the University of Alabama, and went on to become one of the best players in the NBA D-League.
In his first professional year with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, Mitchell ranked second in the NBADL in points per game (21.9) and first in points per minute, and was named to the 2013 NBA D-League All-Rookie First Team.
Mitchell was playing for the D-League Select Team under former Perth Wildcats Head Coach Connor Henry, when he was first noticed by Cairns Taipans Head Coach Aaron Fearne at the 2014 Summer League.
“Back then, he was sharp,” recalls Coach Fearne.
“He ended up earning a 10-day call up to the Bucks and went on to have an outstanding D-League season, winning the Championship. He’s played on some good levels over the last few years too, so I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do out here.”
That year, Mitchell won the 2014 Championship with Fort Wayne, but also won his second consecutive D-League Slam Dunk Contest (2013, 2014) to add to his All-NBA D-League First Team (2013) and Third Team (2014) honours.
While Mitchell has clearly made a name for himself in the NBADL, it is not unique moniker, with Mitchell (born 1989) not to be confused by another Tony Mitchell (born 1992) that also played for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.
The bizarre coincidence was highlighted by the Milwaukee Bucks when both Mitchells played for their affiliate team at the same time, before they both went on to play stints in Israel and China – but at separate clubs.
Mitchell’s resume also features an MVP accolade, winning the Serie A MVP award in Italy after leading the league in scoring (20.1 points per game) with Dolomiti Energia Trento.
Fearne said that it is his vast international experience that will help the aggressive playmaker adapt quickly to the NBL competition, and transition into the tight-knit group.
“We obviously need some scoring punch, and that’s what we’re hoping he’ll give us. He’s a big time competitor and he’ll be another weapon to go score the ball and use his athleticism to play at both ends of the floor,” said Fearne.
“Initially this is going to be a challenging process for everybody, but we will deal with the best we can. It’s something most other NBL clubs have had to experience at some point this season – Perth recently brought in Cotton, Melbourne signed Kromah, New Zealand with Carter and Dillard.
“The positive for us, is that we have a fair few games ahead of us, and every day we have an opportunity to watch video and get him familiar with the comp and the guys.”
As per NBL rules, players must be registered for at least 25 per cent (or seven games) of the regular season to qualify for the finals. The Taipans still have eight remaining games – the most in the NBL – and while it is anticipated Mitchell will suit up tonight; the pressure won’t fall directly on the debutant.
“It’s not going to be about an individual guy doing this or that – it’s about the entire team. Even if Tony wasn’t with us, we want to play the way we play as a group. There is pressure on everybody right now,” said Fearne.
“The best teams will be the ones that make the playoffs. It won’t come down to one guy, everyone is going to have to play their role and execute.”
Tony Mitchell will play his first home game this Sunday 22 January, when the Cairns Taipans host the Illawarra Hawks at the Cairns Convention Centre.
Club Statement on Fuquan Edwin
The Cairns Taipans agreed to release import Fuquan Edwin from his contract for personal reasons, effective immediately on Thursday. He will return to the US this weekend.
Both parties have a strong mutual respect for one another, and wish each other the best of luck going forward.