By now, RayQuawndis Mitchell is familiar with the rhythms of recruiting.
For the third time in as many years, the combo guard is fielding pitches and vetting landing spots. So far, his route has passed through Idaho to Otero Junior College. Over the weekend, he announced five possible destinations for his next spot: UIC, Milwaukee, Georgia Southern, Pacific and Missouri.
Why take a detour for a one-season stopover, a town of roughly 7,000 people, in southeastern Colorado? Last June, Idaho pushed out coach Don Verlin after an internal investigation turned up a trio of minor NCAA violations. Instead of moving to another low-major program, Mitchell, who averaged 4.4 points for the Vandals, thought he might be in line for more minutes and expanded role in the junior college ranks.
It turned out to be a productive move.
Mitchell, who is 6-foot-5, bulked up, helped pilot Otero’s offense, and evolved into a 40.9 percent shooter beyond the 3-point arc. The combination proved enticing to Texas A&M, Arkansas and Iowa State, which hosted for an unofficial visit. And quietly, MU, whose staff has been casting about for a reliable scorer on the wing, got involved during the winter.
While the Tigers haven’t extended an offer, Mitchell’s comfort level with the staff merited them inclusion is his final quintet. On Sunday, I caught up with Mitchell to chat about MU’s interest, his recruiting process and why Columbia might be an optimal fit. Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Matthew Harris: I remember seeing your name linked to Missouri earlier in the year, but how long have they been involved?
RayQuawndis Mitchell: I’ve been talking to them for a while, as well as a few other schools in that conference like Texas A&M and Arkansas. But I decided to go opposite ways with those other schools. That’s why they’re not on my list right now. My uncle and my mother and I just thought it was best if I didn’t continue going forward with those other schools.
Missouri came up to one of my games, but I didn’t get to play because I was sick. Then a different coach, Cornell [Mann], came to watch me play another game. They were going to circle back aground again, but that’s when the virus and everything started going on. That’s when coach [Cuonzo] Martin was going to come out and see my mom and me. But then everything got pushed back and got messed up.
MH: Who is your primary contact with the staff now?
RM: I’m talking to coach Martin and coach Cornell. I was actually talking to coach Mann a little bit earlier today (Sunday), and I talked to coach Martin yesterday.
MH: What has been their message about why you’d be a good fit in Columbia?
RM: Earlier in the season, my team was ranked fourth in the country [in the NJCAA], and that’s when I was getting a little bit of a hype because I was leading my team. I was running the point guard for our team. That’s when Texas was coming [to watch] and Iowa State. That’s when I took my visit to Iowa State. Those schools were coming out.
Like them, Mizzou saw that I was a big combo guard that was playing the one and two. I could play the three. It’s was just dependent on matchups and who I was guarding. They liked the versatility that I brought to the table.
MH: So, has Missouri officially offered? I saw that Georgia Southern offered last week but haven’t seen one reported for MU. Has that happened?
RM: Not yet.
MH You have some schools – UIC, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Georgia Southern — with some more certainty. Why keep Mizzou in the mix?
RM: Even though Missouri hasn’t offered, I just really like the staff. If the virus and everything hadn’t happened, I think things would have been a little bit different. But I still like them. It’s not a 100 percent they will [offer] or that I’ll go there, but I just really like the relationship we have.
MH: What’s the timeline at this point for you to reach a decision?
RM: I’m going to be making a decision here within the next week and a half to two weeks.
MH: This is your third recruitment after Idaho and Otero. That can changes how you approach it and what you value. What is it for you? Is it the system? Is the support pieces, whether it’s facilities or strength and conditioning?
RM: Just making sure I have the support of the staff. I feel really comfortable with all of the people I have on my list. That’s why I took some of those other power five schools off my list. It’s not that I didn’t like them, or the head coach wasn’t going to come out and see me. But in the end, it’s about relationships. This is my third school in three years, and that’s what really matters.
MH: If I’m not mistaken, you’re young for your class and didn’t play varsity basketball until your senior season at Blaine High School?
RM: My mother and me moved from Atlanta, and when I moved from there, they actually put me up a grade in high school. So, I graduated earlier than what I was supposed to. I graduated at 17. I was supposed to be a freshman right now in college.
MH: So, you were young for your grade and transitioning. I saw that you averaged 22.1 points, 10 rebounds and 6.7 assists as a senior. When did Division I schools start reaching out? Midway through the season?
RM: Definitely. At one point I was going to reclass. That’s when Creighton and some other schools started to come in. But I decided to stay in my grade, and that’s when Idaho and a few other schools offered me. But they were the first ones, and I really liked them. So I decided to go there.
MH: When you decided to move on from Idaho to Otero, what was behind the decision? Obviously, coach Verlin was no longer in charge, but most of his staff stayed on. Coach [Zach] Claus was promoted. Why opt for the JUCO route?
RM: I still talk to coach Verlin and another assistant coach that got let go, and at the time, they just thought I would have a lot of options if I went the JUCO route. I had a couple of offers while I was in the transfer portal, but I thought going the JUCO route would give me a lot more experience and put me in a better situation.
MH: What was the path to Otero?
RM: I was talking to a lot of schools, and I was talking to [guard] Jay Scrubb, and I was actually going to go to school with him [at John A. Logan College]. Then I spoke with coach [Cole] Dewey, and he wanted me to come in and just play with the ball in my hand and run the show for them.
MH: On film, there’s a lot a footage of catch-and-shoots, 3-pointers off the dribble and some high pick-and-rolls. But how would you describe the system Otero uses?
RM: Our team was very athletic this year, and our coach liked to do a screening and pick-and-roll to create for others. He really liked the way I could make a play for myself and other people. Sometimes, we’d just see a high screen and let me create—throw a lob up, hit a guy in the corner for a 3, or just take it all the way myself. He kind of let us play free and play fast.
MH: People will look at stats and see how well you shot the ball behind the arc. Your mechanics look pretty sound on tape. But do you prefer to shoot on the catch, coming off a screen, or use your dribble to get into your motion?
RM: If I have movement into my shot, like if it’s a hesitation dribble or off a screen, I can pop back really quick and shoot. I feel really comfortable shooting off the dribble, and that’s something I’ve really focused on and tried to develop.
MH: Missouri plays at a controlled pace and really creates spot-up opportunities. How do you think you’d fit into that style?
RM: I definitely watched them on TV a lot this year, as well as some other schools I was checking out early in the year and that was their conference. I like the way they did play really controlled. They definitely have some players that knew how to find their shooters. I really like how they can get in there and get stopped on two feet and kick it out. Something like that could be a good spot where I could shoot, too.