On Monday, Feb. 17, the NYU men’s basketball team officially drafted 11-year-old Brooklyn native Isaiah Mitchell to join the Violets, per agreement with Team IMPACT, “a national nonprofit in Boston that connects children facing serious or chronic illnesses with college teams.”
“I’m happy to sign and join y’all,” Mitchell told the team.
Mitchell was diagnosed with leukemia at a young age. His love for basketball — playing on his youth team and supporting the Brooklyn Nets — helped him during his battle against cancer. Taking on a more active role with the Violets has given Mitchell a sense of eagerness and enthusiasm. Mitchell holds the Violets in the utmost importance, especially on game nights.
“[On game nights] he wants to be early so he can get with the guys and be on the bench with them,” Judy Ann Jones, Mitchell’s grandmother, said. “So when we are a little late, he gets very upset. Game nights are something he looks forward to.”
Dagan Nelson, head coach for the men’s basketball team, is excited to be a part of Team IMPACT.
“The more research I’ve done on Team IMPACT, the more impressed I’ve been with them,” Nelson said. “They’ve had over hundreds of schools that they partnered with, so that’s a tribute to them for all the young people they’re helping. We’re excited to be a part of this.”
Over the past couple of months leading up to the signing day, the team has been building a relationship with Mitchell. In the three games that Mitchell has attended, he gave the pregame speeches, led the team in the pregame chant and supported both the men’s and the women’s team from behind the bench. Mitchell’s positive attitude and energy has rubbed off on the team; as a result, the players have connected with him on a personal level.
“Since I’ve been injured this year, I’ve been on the bench with him,” SPS first-year Ephraim Reed said. “I’ve been talking to him during the game all about his favorite [NBA] players, video games, things like that. So I’ve been able to interact with him more. He’s helped me put my injury into perspective. He’s a fun kid.”
As an official member of the team, Mitchell will attend the Violets’ practices, games, team dinners and more. Nelson has many plans for Mitchell — on and off the court — for the remainder of the season.
“Going forward in the springtime, there are some things that we’re going to do in terms of having him come over to campus,” Nelson said. “We’re going to give him a really good college tour so he can see what NYU is like. From Bobst Library to Stern to walking around Washington Square Park, we want him to get a feel for what a college is like. Our goal right now is to have him come over once, maybe twice a month, and have lunch with me, the staff and the players.
Looking ahead to next fall, Nelson is planning on integrating Mitchell into their off-season activities.
“We’re going to do some stuff in the fall when we get back in session and he’ll come over to some team bonding activities that we do,” Nelson said. ‘We will do as much as we can do.”
Both Mitchell and the team have benefitted from this budding relationship so far. Many see Mitchell as a source for inspiration in basketball and in life.
“He put everything in perspective,” CAS senior and men’s basketball captain Ethan Feldman said. “We have all complained about problems in our lives, but for him to go through what he’s gone through at such a young age puts everything into perspective.”
A version of this article appears in the Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, print edition. Email Arvind Sriram at [email protected]