Donovan Mitchell’s rookie year got off to a slow start by his standards. The Utah Jazz guard would be dominating games by the end of his first NBA season, but he struggled in the beginning.
And Mitchell says he knows why.
“I don’t know if y’all remember the first, what, 12 games of the season? I was not playing well at all,” Mitchell told a group of Jazz fans recently. “Want to know what really changed? I stopped eating at Ruth’s Chris every night.”
OK, a little background: When Mitchell was in college at Louisville, the coaching staff would take the entire team to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse for a meal before every big game. Mitchell tried to keep that tradition alive after he was drafted, when every night felt like a big game.
The young Utah Jazz star figured out pretty quickly that he needed to make a change. In are grilled chicken, pasta and vegetables. Out (mostly) are the red meats and sweets that Mitchell craves.
“He’s really a fat boy,” Jazz forward Ekpe Udoh said, laughing at Mitchell’s old dietary habits. “Y’all don’t really understand the growth right now. This is great.”
But Mitchell is not the only one making sacrifices. Go down the Jazz roster and just about every player has some sort of guilty pleasure they try to cut from their diet during the NBA season.
Forwards Jae Crowder and Derrick Favors went into last summer looking to cut weight, hoping to get leaner and faster, able to better move up and down the court, able to better stick with smaller, quicker opponents. By the time training camp had started, Crowder and Favors were each down more than 10 pounds.
“I cut off so much stuff from my diet,” Favors said. “It was hard at first, but I had to do it. I didn’t go vegetarian but close to it. Throughout the week I would eat mostly fruits and vegetables. Didn’t eat a lot of red meat. I’d save that for the weekend.”
Guards Grayson Allen and Naz Mitrou-Long both have a sweet tooth they try to keep in check.
“I love Reese’s and stuff with peanut butter in it,” Allen said. “But during the season I cut out pretty much all sugar.”
Mitrou-Long, meanwhile, loves chewy, fruity candies.
“I definitely have to cut out the candy,” he said. “That’s my weakness right there. I love candy. Sour Patch Kids, Skittles. Starbursts were my go-to when I was a kid. My mom used to hook me up. That’s why I had to have the cavities dealt with. I’m a sucker for some candy for sure.”
Center Tony Bradley lost 15 pounds before the start of his second NBA season—and he did it by emptying his cupboards.
“Junk food, chips, candy, stuff like that,” he said. “If you go into my kitchen now, I don’t have anything in my cabinets.”
For Bradley, chips are the hardest thing to resist.
Sour cream or barbecue?
“Both. Mix ’em. I love chips,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what kind. No matter what kind of bag you give me, I love them.”
Thabo Sefolosha loves chocolate.
“I’m from Switzerland,” he said.
But as you get older, you get wiser, too.
“When I was in my 20s it was different,” the veteran forward said. “Now I have to watch what I eat throughout the season. Especially going into cities late and ordering room service. It’s not the healthiest food.”
Mitchell, in just his second year, is trying to learn that lesson. The way Mitchell ate during his rookie season still makes Udoh laugh.
“He loves breakfast,” Udoh said with Mitchell sitting next to him. “Look at him, he lights up at breakfast.”
“I’ve got to have my four or five pancakes, five scrambled eggs, four pieces of bacon and then I can carry on my day,” Mitchell confirmed.
“This is before practice,” Udoh added.
But Mitchell said he is making changes.
“We’re laughing and joking about this stuff but at the same time it just shows the growth mentally that he’s gone through this past year,” Udoh said. “From not knowing and still being able to compete at a high level to now taking it seriously and wanting to take his game to the next level.”
Mitchell said he is down to two pancakes and two eggs for breakfast. He has limited himself to steak once a week. And he is no longer making his daily stop at the gas station by his home to get his candy fix: a two-pack-a-day gummy bear habit.
“I’m on a no-gummy bear or juice diet, and my body feels like it’s dying on the inside,” Mitchell said at the start of training camp. “But I’m trying to get through day by day. I’m getting there.”