Arkansas' Mitchell transitions from QB to hoops

KURT VOIGT AP Sports Writer Published:

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) -- Brandon Mitchell is accustomed to filling in when needed at Arkansas.

A sophomore guard, Mitchell is also a backup quarterback for the Razorbacks. He joined the basketball team following the football team's Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State on Jan. 6. It's the second time he has taken to the hard court at Arkansas, following a brief stint as a freshman two years ago.

Similar to the first time when he saw action in four games, Mitchell's impact appeared as though it would be limited this go-around. The 6-foot-4 Mitchell was a standout basketball player in high school in Louisiana, resulting in a scholarship offer from LSU, but his game had evolved through football workouts and he is now more suited to interior play after bulking up to 230 pounds.

Still, Arkansas coach Mike Anderson saw an opportunity for Mitchell to contribute to a roster depleted by injuries. What Anderson saw, after Mitchell worked himself into basketball shape, was more than just another practice body.

Anderson saw a natural leader.

"In practice, he's been doing some things that will catch your eye," Anderson said. "He has a good feel for the game. I think for a guy that plays the quarterback (position), he's been in that leadership role. He talks to these guys and they listen."

Over the weekend, he did more than talk.

Following a shoulder injury to starting forward Michael Sanchez, Arkansas (17-8, 5-5 Southeastern Conference) entered the South Carolina game Saturday with just eight healthy scholarship players. And making matters worse, forward Hunter Mickelson was saddled with two quick first-half fouls.

Enter Mitchell, who had played four minutes in three previous games.

The quarterback looked every bit like a natural to SEC basketball, finishing with career highs in points (eight), rebounds (four) and minutes (16). Mitchell was particularly effective in the first half with Mickelson on the bench, scoring six points and grabbing four rebounds as the Razorbacks began to pull away and improved to 17-0 in Bud Walton Arena this season with a 76-65 win.

"It was great," Mitchell said. "I hope it continues. I want to do whatever I can to help the team win. ... I feel very comfortable. It's a lot easier than when I first started. I'm obviously in basketball shape and it feels a lot better."

Mitchell spent most of his time close to the basket against taller players from South Carolina, but that didn't stop his production. He scored in the first half on a putback, a jumper near the free throw line and a dunk during an 11-0 Arkansas run to close the first half.

His teammates took notice of the energy Mitchell brought, and his fearlessness while playing against taller players.

"I guess the whole football thing, him playing football, really helps his basketball game because he's a physical guy," Arkansas forward Marvell Waithe said. "I mean, he's probably one of the most physical guys out here. Regardless of his height, it really shows what he's made of."

Mitchell saw limited action during the football season while backing up first-team All-SEC quarterback Tyler Wilson. Mitchell competed against Wilson for the starting job until late during preseason practice, and he finished 22 of 32 passing for 271 yards and two touchdowns.

He also saw action in the Razorbacks' goal line formation, rushing 15 times for 58 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Despite his time with basketball, Mitchell is still taking part in his full complement of offseason football workouts and plans to continue playing for Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino. He juggles both sports and 15 hours of classes, calling the schedule "exhausting."

Still, he loves it and has found a role in Anderson's up-tempo system -- which he said resembles the style of play he took part in high school. Mitchell has also learned how to bring some of his football skills to the basketball court.

"It's just something I take from football, being a quarterback," Mitchell said. "You're out there on the field and responsible for 10 other guys. You've got to be the coach on the field. That's something I take pride in."