Junior Alex Mitola of the Dartmouth men’s basketball squad has blossomed into one of the most prolific guards in the Ivy League – surprising many coaches and longtime fans of the Ancient Eight.
But Dartmouth Head Coach Paul Cormier saw this coming when he recruited Mitola three years ago. In fact, Cormier credits Mitola for being the “one” to change the culture in the Big Green program.
Changing the Culture
From the moment Mitola set foot on campus in Hanover, New Hampshire, it was apparent that he was going to play, and play a lot. Mitola heard his name called in the starting lineup in the first game of his career, and he’s heard it called in all 71 games the Big Green have played since.
His numbers over those three years speak for themselves.
In Mitola’s freshman season, he averaged 11.3 points per game, shooting 39.2-percent from behind the arc. Mitola numbers have only grown since then, as he averaged 11.8 points per game in his second year while shooting 41.8-percent from downtown, and as a junior currently averages 14.3 points per game.
Far larger than his numbers, however, has been the co-captain’s presence around his teammates. According to Cormier, ever since Mitola became a part of the team, his leadership and dedication to improve has become “infectious”.
“He pulls players in when he is in the gym,” Cormier said. “He sets examples. He works hard, and has been more vocal. Everyone is on board with him.”
Mitola does all the great things that coaches salivate over, and everything it takes to win – whether it’s handling the ball against tough defensive pressure, taking the big shot, or finding the open man and playing tough defense — according to Cormier.
“He just keeps his head on and off the court,” Cormier said. “He sees the game well and has a very high basketball IQ.”
But the most important thing that Mitola has accomplished at Dartmouth, according to his coach, isn’t a big shot, clutch assist or big steal: it’s about how he carries himself and prepares himself for success on and off the court
“We had to get a good player,” Cormier said, reflecting on the 2012-13 recruiting class. “Not only were we looking for a good player, but a player who could change the culture here. Alex, was a bulls-eye for us.”
“You have to be able to play the game with a chip on your shoulder,” said Mergen Sina, a former high school basketball coach of Mitola at Gill St. Bernard’s School.
Those words have stuck with Mitola since high school, fueling the 5’11 guard to test even the tallest opponents he has come across, overcoming his size disadvantage with effort and energy.
Mitola grew up playing basketball at a very young age, competing with his older brother Andrew, who happened to be on many of his basketball teams as a kid. It was when Mitola went from youth basketball to AAU that his career in basketball began to elevate.
“My dad taught me a lot and was a big factor when he allowed me to play AAU in fifth grade,” Mitola said.
The environment of playing AAU basketball was huge for Mitola, who not only saw his skills flourish, but the experiences of making great friends like former AAU teammates Jaren Sina (son of Mergen Sina) who is now a starting point guard as a sophomore at Seton Hall and Dom Hoffman, a junior starting power forward for Bucknell.
Mitola credits these two friends as people who not only improved him as a player, but as a person.
Finding Experience Early
One of the key reasons why Mitola chose Dartmouth was that he was going to play.
“It was a good opportunity to get on the floor early,” Mitola said. “I was a little nervous at first as a freshmen but it got easier.”
Mitola is thankful for all the experience he has gained as a player by starting early. At this point in his career, there is nothing that he has not seen as far as basketball goes. Mitola still saw challenges along the way.
“I didn’t realize how difficult the challenges are,” Mitola said. “I just learned to fight through adversity.”
From youth basketball through high school, Mitola had experienced success at every step of his career until he set foot on campus at Dartmouth, a young struggling to find its identity.
In his first year, the Big Green finished 9-19. However in his second season, Dartmouth saw a three win increase when it finished the 2013-14 season at 12-16. With 16 games in this season, Dartmouth is at an even 8-8 record with 10 games left to play.
“All the experience has made my job easier,” Mitola said.
When it comes to what Mitola wants to accomplish in his college career, it is to win the conference nd make the NCAA tournament. But, Mitola doesn’t want to think too far ahead.
“You just have to come in and approach every day the same,” Mitola said. “We know the league is competitive. It’s going to take a tremendous amount of effort. We have to take it one game at a time.”
As far as what Mitola would like to improve as a player and has already been working on is developing a “floater.”
“I’ve really been working on a floater,” Mitola said. “It gives the defense another look. I believe I took five floaters against Harvard, but only made one. It’s something I still have to work at.”
Mitola was already an established 3-point shooter when he entered the league, but has continued to significantly improve upon his biggest strength since joining the Big Green.
“I’ve really improved my shooting from the three,” Mitola said. “Most of my 3-point shots came off catch and shoot, so I’ve really gotten better with shooting it off the dribble.”
A Lasting Impression
When asked how he would most like to be remembered when his college career is over, Mitola doesn’t talk about scoring numbers or star billing: he simply wants to be known as someone who gave it his all.
“I do whatever it takes to win,” Mitola said. “It’s really that. I strive to be the best all-around player I’m going to be.”
“He doesn’t break down no matter the size,” Cormier said. “He is a special young man, very privileged to coach him.”
Cormier even thinks that if Mitola decides not to pursue playing basketball overseas after his college career is all said and done, he could be a great coach.
“I wouldn’t put it past him when Mitola has a chip on his shoulder.”