CUTHBERT -- It started on the playground courts of Randolph County with naked, rim-worn baskets sitting on beatup backboards.
It was Destiny against the world back then, the only girl on the court, going one-on-one in a game she wasn't supposed to be playing. It just didn't matter to Destiny Mitchell then, and doesn't now.
Whether she was 10 years old and facing an all-boys team back then, or facing her future now, Mitchell's the same. You put a basketball in her hand, and she believes she can do anything.
"I don't believe she knows how good she is,'' Randolph-Clay girls basketball coach Jennifer Acree said. "It's scary to think how good she can be. The sky's the limit, the solar system is the limit for Destiny.''
The first step is to leave Cuthbert and head for East Tennessee State, which somehow won the lottery when Mitchell decided to spend her next four years playing for the Lady Buccaneers. She was courted by a long list of schools, including Rutgers and St. John's, but in the end chose East Tennessee State over St. John's because she felt more comfortable there, and because the school offered her a chance to go into physical therapy.
"It came down to St. John's and East Tennessee State, and at St. John's they weren't sure if the physical therapy program would be open, so I decided to go to East Tennessee State,'' said Mitchell, who made it official Friday, signing a letter-of-intent.
"When I visited I really just fell in love with the school, the campus -- it's beautiful,'' she said. "And I liked the teammates I met there. I'm ready to be a Lady Buc.''
It's difficult to imagine Mitchell not dominating the game at the next level the way she dominated it in high school, where she averaged almost 30 points a game (29.7) and flew up and down the court like a guard while rebounding like Dennis Rodman.
She literally did it all, scoring at will with drives and 3's and stop-and-go jumpers, and often would block a shot or make a steal at one end of the court then drive and hit a spinning jumper. She averaged 29.7 points, 14 rebounds, six steals and four blocks a game.
"East Tennessee State got a steal,'' Acree said. "She's definitely a top Division I talent. She could play at the top level anywhere. She can do anything she wants to do. I'm looking forward to seeing her take over the game at East Tennessee State.''
It all started when Mitchell started playing basketball against the boys in elementary school. She wasn't just a competitor, she was better than the boys.
"I would beat them one-on-one and they would get mad and say, 'Lets
play again,' '' Mitchell said. "What could I say? I just said, 'Let's play again, and I'll beat you again.' "
They started talking about her future as early as middle school.
"People starting saying I was going to be great,'' Mitchell said. "I knew I was tough, but I didn't think I would be this good. I just feel when I am on the court that no one can stop me. I'm unstoppable.''
And now there's a new challenge.
"It's a big jump, but if I put my mind to it and work hard and stay determined, I can still be unstoppable in college,'' she said.
Mitchell was The Herald's co-Player of the Year along with Bainbridge's Alexis Burke, and she was not only named to the Atlanta Journal Constitution's Class A All-State team, but Mitchell was the Class A player of the year in Georgia.
She has a million memories of playing at Randolph-Clay, which was a state power every year she played, but there's one night that will always stay with Mitchell.
"What I remember the most is the night I scored 53 points,'' she said. "Wasn't that amazing? I just couldn't miss that night.
"And I will remember all my teammates, especially Asha Alexander because we played together for four years,'' she added. "I'll miss my coaches. They are so amazing. They're the best. They pushed me to work harder and to strive to be the best. If they didn't push me I wouldn't be where I am today.''
Acree came to Randolph-Clay three years ago not knowing what to expect.
"When I came to Randolph-Clay I didn't know who Destiny Mitchell was,'' Acree said. "Then I saw her play in our first game at summer camps and thought, 'Wow, who is this girl? She can play.' And my eyes have gotten big with every move she has made since.''
Acree was at the center of the program Friday at Randolph-Clay, where the signing took place on stage at the school's theater with music, a slide show, a video presentation and speakers who talked about Mitchell.
Acree vowed to do everything she could do to retire the No. 41 worn by Mitchell, who is clearly in a class by herself. Not only does she have the school record 53-point game against Bainbridge, a Class AAAA state power, but she finished her career with 2,350 points and more than 1,500 rebounds.
She simply made it look too easy every time she stepped on the court.
"She does make it look easy,'' Acree said. "She is not cocky at all. She will make a great move, and just turn and look over to me and crack a smile.''
She's taking that smile to the next level, and perhaps beyond.
"Of course, after college I would want to play in the WNBA, or at least overseas,'' Mitchell said. "I'm ready to leave Georgia and go to the next level. I'm really ready.''