SAN FRANCISCO — After each basket Mike Mitchell Jr. scored Sunday, big cheers resonated from one section at the Golden State Warriors' Chase Center.
Nobody shouted louder than his three younger siblings wearing their versions of his No. 2 Gophers jersey.
Despite the loss to San Francisco, Bay Area natives Mitchell and his Gophers teammate Jack Wilson were grateful to return home to see family and be on the same floor as the former NBA champion Warriors.
"It's like a dream come true," Mitchell said. "I went to a lot of Warriors games growing up. It's surreal, everybody seeing me back home in a Minnesota jersey."
While their teammates got a kick out of visiting the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman's Wharf during the trip, the two Northern Californians reminisced about glory days at high schools nearby.
Mitchell and Wilson had both been standout players in the West Catholic Athletic League. Even though they were three years apart, their paths crossed briefly at perennial powers Archbishop Mitty and Junipero Serra, respectively.
"I actually tell Jack all the time that we beat [Serra] my junior year to clinch the league title, but he was gone," Mitchell said. "Jack was a big deal. I used to go to his games when I was in seventh and eighth grade."
Their separate journeys eventually landed them in the Big Ten playing for third-year coach Ben Johnson, learning new roles for the Gophers (4-2) entering Thursday's game against New Orleans.
After starting his first 63 college games at Pepperdine, Mitchell has come off the bench sharing point guard duties with junior starter Elijah Hawkins and freshman Cam Christie.
"It's definitely different," Mitchell said. "I've never been on a team like this with so much depth. When you're on a better team, you have to sacrifice minutes. Hopefully that will help us reach our goal."
Wilson, a 6-11, 285-pound former Washington State center and offensive lineman, has only played in two games this season. His biggest contribution so far has been providing a physical presence in practice.
"Dawson [Garcia] and Pharrel [Payne] in practice don't need to be slamming into each other," Wilson said. "So, you throw me into that equation. I think it serves an important role in itself."
Growing up in San Jose, Mitchell heard his whole life about his father Mike Sr.'s exploits becoming one of Stanford's all-time leading rushers in the late 1990s. The son's path to stardom would be in a different sport.
A four-year varsity point guard at Mitty, the younger Mitchell would carry his father's name but establish himself in hoops. He was the 2021 Bay Area player of the year and a two-time West Catholic league MVP.
"Basketball was always kind of my calling card," Mitchell said. "[My dad] has shown me hard work ever since I was born. That made me want to get up early, do multiple workouts a day and keep grinding."
Mitchell also looked up to the Gordon brothers, Aaron and Drew — Mitty legends and family friends.
"Seeing Drew and Aaron have the kind of success they had in basketball inspired me to go as far as I can with it," Mitchell Jr. said. "It showed me I could play at this level."
Mitchell's father recalls his son being a top-100 player in his class and being recruited hard by Pac-12 schools. But Mitchell committed to Pepperdine before his junior year. It came down to a relationship with Lorenzo Romar, who previously coached and recruited NBA players.
"Mike had a great summer and just took off," Mike Sr. said. "He had an offer from USC and other big schools. But Coach Romar is known to be a great guards coach, and it was just perfect timing."
In 2021-22 for Pepperdine, Mitchell became one of the top passers and shooters in the West Coast Conference. He played back home in the Bay Area several times vs. San Francisco, St. Mary's and Santa Clara, but the Waves won only 16 games in two seasons.
"The bond I built with Coach Romar was really good and he helped me get to this point," Mitchell said. "But I wanted to prove I can win at this level."
Biggest man on campus
During one Gophers game this season, the TV broadcast compared Wilson's height and weight measurements to the Undertaker, a WWE legend.
Wilson, who weighed 340 pounds last year, was contacted about a possible future as a pro wrestler. It wouldn't be the first time he picked up something completely new.
After stints playing basketball at Oregon State and Idaho from 2018-20, the Montara, Calif., native gave up the sport to train as a strength coach at Washington State. He was working at GNC when the Cougars convinced him to put on a helmet and pads for the first time.
"With football, it was just about being big enough to have a chance to play and add the skills later," said Wilson, who played in 25 football games primarily on special teams in 2021 and 2022.
Hoops came calling again, though. Wilson played 14 games for Washington State's basketball team last season. He lost 40 pounds after transferring to the Gophers, but he still benches nearly 400 pounds and squats more than 500 pounds.
If you look back at high school pics, it's hard to recognize Wilson. He was a slender 7-foot four-star recruit who led Serra to a state title in 2016. He committed to Oregon State but a herniated disc injury in his back forced him to miss his entire senior year and not have the same impact in college. He got stronger with his faith.
"It was so much to understand what was going on with identity and what we're here for," Wilson said. "I wanted my purpose to be bigger than any individual pursuit of a sport."
But being back home brought back fond memories for Wilson and Mitchell, who hope their paths crossing with the Gophers can revive past Bay Area success.
"I'm staying in shape and will be ready when my number gets called," Wilson said.