FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas forward Marvell Waithe didn't know much about quarterback Brandon Mitchell when he stepped onto the practice court last week.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas forward Marvell Waithe didn’t know much about quarterback Brandon Mitchell when he stepped onto the practice court last week.
But it didn’t long for the senior to realize the 6-foot-4 football player could help the Razorbacks on the basketball court the rest of the season.
“I think I’ve seen him lay the ball up one time in our drills when we split up guards and forwards,” the 6-foot-9 Waithe said Thursday afternoon. “I don’t even want to dunk anymore in those drills because he just gets up so high. He’s a freak athlete.”
Mitchell continued his behind-the-scenes preparation Thursday, hoping to work is way onto the court with the Razorbacks (13-5) as early as Saturday’s game against No. 20 Michigan (15-4) in Bud Walton Arena.
He received permission from Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino to try out for the basketball team after the season ended on Jan. 6. He then earned an invitation to walk-on from basketball coach Mike Anderson, who was impressed enough to add the former high school basketball star to his roster.
Mitchell traveled with the Razorbacks during the road trip to Kentucky and dressed out for the 86-63 loss. He didn’t play, but the Louisiana native believes he can help as early as Saturday.
“I really feel I could help them out right now,” Mitchell said. “I’ve been working out all year with football and I feel like I’m in pretty good shape. … (Anderson) just tells me to keep working hard and when the opportunity presents itself, just be ready.”
In the meantime, Mitchell is taking a crash course in Arkansas’ up-tempo style. Anderson said he has practiced a few times and has received some individual instruction in the past week. Mitchell, in fact, was going over numerous details with Arkansas assistant Matt Zimmerman before the rest of the Razorbacks joined them on the court Thursday.
Learning plays, Mitchell said, is the easy part considering he’s a quarterback. The hardest part of returning to the basketball court has been getting used to Arkansas’ up-and-down style of play.
“Football is like one play then you’ve got a 15-second rest,” Mitchell said. “You only go for like five or 10 seconds during the play. Just the back-and-forth pace, that’s the biggest thing.”
But it’s a challenge Mitchell relishes after playing eight games in a backup role with the football team as a redshirt sophomore. Mitchell insists he remains a “football player” on scholarship and continues to work out with teammates during offseason lifting. But he wanted to give basketball — a sport he called his “first love” — another try after a brief stint with the Razorbacks under John Pelphrey in 2009-10.
Mitchell played in four games that season, averaging 1.3 points, 1.3 rebounds and 8.5 minutes before leaving to concentrate on football. He said the desire to play again emerged after the Cotton Bowl.
“It’s just something I wanted to do,” Mitchell said of his current stint with the basketball team. “I saw them play a couple of times during the (football) season and after the (Cotton Bowl) was over I was at home shooting with my brothers and family and just working out with my old high school team. I thought since the season was over, I’d come out and help.”
Mitchell is talented. He was recruited by several schools to play the sport out of high school and was offered a scholarship to play at LSU.
Anderson said he wasn’t aware of Mitchell on the recruiting trail back then, but has been impressed with his work ethic and raw skills the past week.
“He won’t learn everything we do, but he’ll at least have a basic idea of the things we do day-in and day-out,” Anderson said. “He’s very athletic. He loves the game. He’s always listening.”
Anderson said last week Mitchell would most likely help the Razorbacks as a small forward. Point guard Julysses Nobles, who was a member of the team in 2009-10, added that Mitchell will be more than just an extra body on the bench when he does play.
“He’s very physical,” Nobles said Thursday. “He’s very explosive, very athletic. He probably can help us rebound, and he can slash to the goal, get a big dunk and get the crowd into it.”
Arkansas’ football spring practice dates haven’t been announced, but there’s a good chance workouts will be going on while basketball season is still in progress. Mitchell said he and Petrino haven’t discussed what will happen during the overlap, but added it’s a conversation for another time.
Mitchell said his only concentration for now is helping the Razorbacks win on the basketball court.
“Coach Petrino was very supportive,” Mitchell said of his return to basketball. “He just told me to just go out there and help the team win, go be a leader.”
Arkansas announced Thursday night it is approaching a sellout for Saturday’s game against Michigan.
The school said 900 tickets remain for the nonconference game. It marks the largest ticket pre-sale for any game this season and could be the first sellout in more than three years.
Arkansas is 13-0 in Bud Walton Arena this season.
No Hogs on Draft List
The NFL released its early entry list for April’s draft, which included a record 65 players. The list did not include any Razorbacks, meaning underclassmen like Tyler Wilson, Knile Davis, Cobi Hamilton, Chris Gragg and Tenarius Wright will remain at Arkansas.
The five were among juniors and redshirt sophomores who sent paperwork to the NFL Draft Advisory Board to gauge their draft status in December.