Mitchell playing key role in helping Wildcats reach their potential

Published 2:46 pm Thursday, February 29, 2024

What did veteran high school coach Tony Bergeron think when ESPN analyst Jay Bilas described his stepson, center Tre Mitchell, as the most indispensable player on Kentucky’s team this year?


“First, he is right. He is not the best player on the team and he will not be the best pro or the best scorer. He has a role and it is not me looking at it through the lens of a father or coach but more listening to the rest of the team and how they talk about him,” said Bergeron. “Next time he is in Rupp Arena, I want to go up and thank him for the great marketing he has done for Tre’s career.”

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Mitchell transferred to Kentucky from West Virginia for his fifth collegiate season after WVU coach Bob Huggins was fired in the offseason. Bergeron, a successful high school coach in the northeast for 20 years and two-year coach at Mass, has known coach John Calipari for 30 years and also knows UK assistants Orlando Antigua, Bruiser Flint and Chuck Martin well.


“Being from Pittsburgh, everybody knows Cal and Tre got a front row view of his career. Most of those kids from there are Calipari fans and combine that with him being at Kentucky, and it was Tre’s dream school and an easy decision to play here,” Bergeron said.


Mitchell had played two years at UMass where his stepfather was on the coaching staff and then one year at Texas before going to West Virginia for the 2022-23 season.


“I coached Tre as a junior and senior in high school for 85 games. We went together to UMass for 45 games,”  Bergeron said. “Tre had to hear my voice for a long time. We spent thousands and thousands of hours in the gym together. He was always a relentless, tireless worker. Just give him a script and he followed what he needed to do.”


However, the script didn’t seem to indicate Mitchell would be such a good passer/facilitator when he transferred to Kentucky. He averaged 11.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in 34 games for WVU —he’s at 12 points and 7.5 rebounds per game at UK. However he had just 61 assists in 34 games last season. This year he had 68 in the first 22 games.


Bergeron said anyone who thought Mitchell was not a good passer was wrong even though he had more turnovers than assists at WVU.


“It’s simple. The people he was throwing it to last year were like 29 percent shooters who did not score like they do at Kentucky. That did not mean his passes were not good. This year he’s throwing it to players shooting 45 percent,” Bergeron said.


In Mitchell’s sophomore year at Mass, he averaged drawing 9.6 fouls per game and averaged 19 points per game on only 12 shots.

“At West Virginia, he played the 4 and was stuck in the corner. At Texas, he played center but they did not play through the bigs,” Bergeron said.


Mitchell was within eight points of breaking the rookie single-season scoring record at UMass held by Julius “Dr. J” Erving and was on the court for an Atlantic-10 Conference Tournament game when COVID shut down the season.


“There’s no guarantee he would have got that, but he was averaging about 26 points per game the previous six games. I would really have liked for him to have got that record,” Bergeron said.

Mitchell has dealt with chronic back pain since Southeastern Conference play started and missed two games before returning against Ole Miss. He injured his shoulder in that win and has now missed games against Auburn, LSU and Alabama. Kentucky has gone 3-2 in games without him, but coach John Calipari has made it clear that the team misses him and the lineup flexibility he provides.


“Tre wants to be back and has to have a good reason for him not to play because he wants to play,” Bergeron said. “The second he can shoot and put on a hoodie he will be out there playing.”


Bergeron said before UK beat Alabama that he believed the Cats could still “peak at the right time” if they can maintain a healthy roster. The Cats have yet to play a full game with a full roster – players have missed a total of 51 games for various reasons and only Antonio Reeves, Reed Sheppard and Jordan Burks have been available for each game. Bergeron readily admits he’s biased about his stepson but believes a healthy Mitchell could provide intangibles Kentucky needs for postseason success.


“There are kids who score more, will get drafted higher and have a chance at better (professional) careers. But this Kentucky team is running on seven cylinders right now and not eight cylinders like a Corvette should be if he is not in there,” Bergeron said.


“He settles the team down. He adds confidence for younger players. He helps put the train back on the track if things are going the wrong way. He can do things that in a close game make the difference between winning and losing.”