For a basketball player, Mitchell not bad on the track

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St. Joseph's B.J. Mitchell. (Phil Anastasia/Staff)

B.J. Mitchell regards himself as a basketball player who also participates in track and field.

His track and field coach has another perspective.

"I tease him all the time," St. Joseph coach Noel Vadino said. "He tells me he's a basketball player who does track. I tell him he's a track guy who plays basketball from November to March."

The 6-foot-2 Mitchell scored 1,369 points in four seasons at St. Joseph. He averaged 18.9 points as a senior. He plans to play basketball next year at Camden County College, with hopes of transferring to a four-year school to continue his career on the hardwood.

But if Mitchell's days of dabbling in track and field are all but over, the rangy 6-foot-2 athlete has finished with a flourish.

Mitchell won three events this weekend - two with personal-best performances - to lead St. Joseph to its third straight Non-Public B state title at Egg Harbor Township.

After capturing the 400-meter hurdles and high jump on Friday night, Mitchell unfurled the best long jump of his life - by far - to capture that event on a sunny Saturday.

"I never thought I could do this," Mitchell said. "If you would have told me as a freshman that I was going to do this, I never would have believed it."

Mitchell, who lives in Sicklerville, attended St. Joseph with the plan to focus on academics and basketball. He had never run track before deciding to join the team on a whim as a freshman.

"My friend Caleb Williams was going to run and he asked me to come out," Mitchell said of Williams, who won the 100 and 200 meters during the two-day event. "I figured it would help me stay in shape for basketball.

"I thought, 'If I like it, I'll stick with it. If not, I'll just quit.' "

Mitchell was a quick study, excelling in the jumps from the start of his career. But he added the 400-meter hurdles - perhaps the sport's most demanding event - as a sophomore.

"That really gets you in shape," Mitchell said of the intermediate hurdles.

Mitchell set a personal best by winning the 400 hurdles in 55.30 seconds on Friday night.

"He's such a hard worker," said Vadino, a first-year head coach who was an assistant for the Wildcats the previous few seasons. "I knew he was going to come here and fight."

Vadino said Mitchell's development has been "unbelievable" as a track and field athlete.

"This is a kid who came out for the sport because his friends talked him into it," Vadino said. "Now he's blossomed into such a great athlete."

Mitchell's best performance of the weekend was his work in the long jump on Saturday, as he went 23 feet, 4 1/2 inches - a personal-best by nearly a foot.

It was a jump that will make Mitchell a competitor to watch Wednesday at the Meet of Champions at South Plainfield.

"I bet him $5 he wouldn't go 23 (feet) on his first jump and he went 23 on his first jump," Vadino said. "I'm out $5."

Mitchell plans to compete in the long jump, high jump and run a leg on the Wildcats' 4x100-relay team at the Meet of Champions. He said that will be the last official track event of his life.

But since the Meet of Champions is an all-star event with no team scoring, Michell effectively finished his career for St. Joseph on a warm weekend with three individual gold medals and another hunk of hardware for the Wildcats' crowded trophy case.

It wasn't a bad way for a basketball star to bid farewell to his second-favorite sport.

panastasia@phillynews.com

@PhilAnastasia