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NKY basketball star draws strength from hardship after losing both parents

‘That kid lifts everybody up that’s around him.’
Published: Mar. 15, 2022 at 10:22 PM EDT
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PARK HILLS, Ky. (WXIX) - The high-school “Sweet 16″ starts Wednesday in Kentucky, and one of the commonwealth’s best players also happens to have one of the most impactful stories.

“Mitchell’s path and story will give you goosebumps,” said Covington Catholic Men’s Basketball Assistant Coach Joe Fredrick. “He’s had more hardship than any kid I’ve ever coached.”

Mitchell Rylee might have been born to play basketball. He’s 6′8″ and athletic with a penchant for highlight dunks and a shot to win Kentucky’s 2022 Mr. Basketball award.

But Mitchell has already experienced tremendous loss in his life, leaving him sometimes alone to shoulder the burdens of success and failure long after the echo of the buzzer has sounded.

The youngest of his family, Mitchell embraced his love of basketball along with his mother. He was a tall kid at a young age, and his trophy case seemed to grow in kind with his reach.

But just before he started high school, Mitchell lost his mother to liver disease.

“It didn’t hit me at first, you know? I mean, I didn’t know that I lost my mom for the rest of my life or that she would never see me commit or never see me pick up a basketball again,” Mitchell said.

One year after Mitchell’s mother died, he lost his father to a heart problem. Now he lives with his aunt and uncle. His two older sisters are also there for support.

“Growing up without two parents, I don’t have the mom I can call, the dad I can call,” he said. “I have my sisters and my aunt and uncle, but sometimes it’s just me that I rely on, so it made me stronger, and it made me ready for anything in life, no matter what that could be.”

Strength is a big part of Mitchell’s game—not just the force to dominate during difficult practices, but the kind of strength it requires to enjoy them.

“That kid lifts everybody up that’s around him,” Fredrick said. “You know, you personally have a bad day, and you think what this kid’s been through, and you can’t help but check yourself and say, ‘What am I feeling sorry for?’”

Basketball became an outlet for Mitchell. Then it became an avenue.

The day he put pen to paper on a college athletic scholarship last August was special in more ways than one. It was his mother’s birthday.

Mitchell took two photos when he signed his college scholarship, one with the aunt and uncle who took him in, the other in front of his old house where he fell in love with basketball at his mother’s side.

“That was always the dream me and her talked about growing up,” he said. “It’s just me being able to play at the next level, specifically playing Division I basketball. [...]Everything is for her.”

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