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Donovan Mitchell sets his sights on a reunion with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich at the 2020 Summer Olympics
SAN ANTONIO — Before the start of the second half of Wednesday’s game, the Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell made his way over to Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, hugged him and exchanged a few words.
The two only had a moment to catch up. But if Mitchell has his way, he and Popovich will be spending a lot more time together this summer.
Popovich will coach Team USA at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, and after getting a taste of international at last summer’s FIBA World Cup, Mitchell wants another shot at winning gold.
“I loved playing for him. I loved representing my country,” Mitchell said on Wednesday. “… Hopefully this summer we can go at it again.”
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Mitchell and Team USA left China and the World Cup disappointed by a seventh-place finish. But the Jazz guard learned some valuable lessons along the way.
“Coach Pop is just a phenomenal coach, phenomenal person,” Mitchell said. “For me, he taught me a lot. He taught me how to be a better leader.”
Popovich came away impressed with Mitchell, too.
“He’s just a naturally magnetic sort of guy,” the coach said. “People react to him. He doesn’t yell or scream or do anything. He just works hard. He’s a great example. He expresses himself. You can tell he cares and he’s consistent in that regard. People are attracted to him. That respect comes easy.”
Mitchell was Team USA’s second-leading scorer last summer, averaging 13.1 points, 5 assists, and 4.3 rebounds per game. But the guard credited his preparation for Team USA and his time with the World Cup squad for refocusing his defensive effort.
“He was really focused on defending and earning his way onto that team by what he did on both ends of the floor,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “That was an emphasis for him.”
Mitchell spent the weeks leading up to Team USA camp working on his defensive technique with Jazz assistant coach Johnnie Bryant.
“He’s gotten more consistent with his focus,” Snyder said. “… Sometimes when you ask someone to carry the load he has assumed offensively, it’s easy to rest on the other end. That’s why two-way players are so unique.”
The time with Team USA also helped prepare Mitchell for his role on this Jazz team.
“The times I was able to speak with Pop about how Donovan was doing, Pop really emphasized his decision-making,” Snyder said. “That offensive efficiency when you’re playing with other really good players. Donovan played with good players last year, but we have more offensive players now. Guys like Mike [Conley] or Bojan [Bogdanovic]. Rudy’s evolving offensively. Donovan’s efficiency and his decision-making is an area that’s really applicable to what he’s doing this year.”
Mitchell said he has had talks with USA Basketball officials about his interest in playing for the Olympic team this summer.
“If the opportunity presents itself, I’d love to do it again,” he said.