Warning: Video contains graphic footage.
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Akil Mitchell is savoring every second of Nets practice. He’s appreciating every sight from Brooklyn’s training camp at the U.S. Naval Academy — every image of anything, really. It wasn’t that long ago when he thought he’d never see again, much less play.
Back on Jan. 26, Mitchell crumpled to the court in pain while playing for the New Zealand Breakers after being poked in the eye — and after feeling his left eyeball come out of its socket. Mitchell couldn’t see, but he could picture the life he’d known being over.
“When it happened, I thought I was done. I was freaking out. I thought I’d never be able to see again, never be able to play again. All those thoughts run through your head,” Mitchell, 25, told The Post. “I was sitting down there for an hour waiting for the ambulance, so a lot of things start going through your head.”
Mitchell can recall feeling his eyeball on the side of his face — albeit still connected. The wait for the ambulance surely felt longer, but when it finally arrived he got pain medicine and saline, and his eyeball was slid back into place.
After being taken to Auckland Hospital — where he regained vision — Mitchell estimates he saw 10 different doctors and eight specialists in all, first in New Zealand and eventually stateside. That includes doctors from the Nets, who’d already acquired him in the 2016 G League Expansion Draft.
“The eyelid rolled back behind the globe so it looked like it was protruding. But everything was still intact, no long-term damage. I was blessed, really. It could’ve been a lot worse,” Mitchell said. “I feel like I’ve got a new lease on my career. I feel refocused, reinvigorated. You can’t tell me anything now, because I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to feel like your career is over.”
But it wasn’t over; far from it.
By Feb. 24, Mitchell had recovered enough to be signed by Long Island, and averaged 8.3 points and 6.8 rebounds in four games before the G League season ended. The 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward spent the last few weeks of the NBA campaign and much of the summer at the HSS Training Center, fighting through a torn calf.
“He’s had a couple of injuries that he’s battled through. But he’s been [in Brooklyn] every day either rehabbing or working out. Happy to see all of his work has paid off,” said Nets guard Joe Harris, Mitchell’s teammate at Virginia. “I’m biased. I always thought he’d be a great addition.”
It’s easy to see why, with a determination that’s impressed coach Kenny Atkinson.
“It’s amazing. And watching him play I can understand how a kid like that comes back from adversity. He’s so high energy. He’s a real high-level competitor,” Atkinson said. “He’s raised a few eyebrows … assistant coaches are talking about him. It’s great to see him bounce back. When you watch him play, man, that’s probably a kid that’s going to bounce back from adversity. He’s been good.”
Defending and rebounding will likely stand him in good stead in Brooklyn, as he works to hone his offensive game and add a 3-point shot.
“They like the things that I do best. I’m a versatile defender. I can defend 2-through-5. They like my IQ, my leadership. All the things I do best are what they want me to continue to do,” said Mitchell, who’d gone to summer league with the Nets in 2015 and Knicks in 2016. “As far as getting better, making the corner 3s, creating plays for other people, screening, nothing that I didn’t already know. But now I have the infrastructure and the coaching staff is really going to get behind me and help me nourish those things. So I’m confident.”
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