FAYETTEVILLE — Wherever twin brothers Makhel and Makhi have played college basketball, it’s been together.
First the twins, who played at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C., signed with nearby Maryland.
After a season with the Terrapins, the twins transferred to Rhode Island, where both became starters.
Now 6-10 Makhel and 6-9 Makhi are seniors and teammates at the University of Arkansas.
“We were always a package deal,” Makhi Mitchell said of the recruiting process. “There were schools calling for us individually, but we wanted to stay together.”
After committing to Arkansas in April and arriving on campus in June, the twins struggled to get playing time during the Razorbacks’ European tour in August when the team had four exhibition games in Spain and Italy.
Now the Mitchells are key parts of Coach Eric Musselman’s playing rotation as the Razorbacks (15-7, 4-5 SEC) prepare for Saturday’s game at South Carolina (8-14, 1-8).
Musselman started the Mitchells in the Razorbacks’ 81-70 victory over Texas A&M on Tuesday night in Walton Arena and they combined for 15 points, 18 rebounds and 10 blocked shots.
Makhel Mitchell had 9 points, a career-high 13 rebounds and 7 blocked shots — which tied Arkansas’ individual record for an SEC game and most recently had been done by Daniel Gafford in the 2017-2018 season — in 32 minutes.
Makhi Mitchell, limited in the first half against Texas A&M when he drew two fouls, had 6 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocked shots in 15 minutes.
Along with celebrating a marquee victory over an Aggies team that was 9-1 in its previous 10 games, the Mitchells turned 23 on Tuesday. For the first time, the twins played a college game on their birthday.
“It was amazing,” Makhel Mitchell said.
The Mitchells are the second set of twins Musselman has had in eight seasons as a college head coach along with Caleb and Cody Martin, 6-6 transfers from North Carolina State who played two seasons at Nevada.
The Martins — now in the NBA with Caleb with Miami and Cody with Charlotte — helped Nevada to a 58-13 record with NCAA Tournament appearances in 2018 and 2019 before Musselman came to Arkansas.
The Mitchell twins are hoping to help Arkansas make a third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance after Elite Eight finishes the previous two years.
“It’s a different dynamic for sure,” Musselman said of coaching twins. “Khi and Khel, their love for one another, it’s a deep love, I can tell you that.
“They protect each other. They look out for each other.
“Caleb and Cody Martin argued a little bit more. I mean, those two guys would fight each other if it came to it, whereas I think Khi and Khel, they’re protectors of one another.
“But both sets of twins I’ve had, they really want their siblings to succeed. That’s definitely been something that I’ve seen with Caleb, Cody, Khi and Khel for sure.”
Arkansas assistant coach Gus Argenal said the Mitchells’ closeness is obvious.
“There is an uncanny special type of connection that they have,” Argenal said. “If Khel gets hurt on the court, you almost feel like Khi is feeling it.”
Argenal said the Mitchells are coachable and have a tremendous work ethic.
“You can’t walk off the floor after practice and not see them dripping sweat,” Argenal said. “They’re tough-nosed guys and I think their play, because of their practice consistency, has really improved.”
Makhi Mitchell started in the Razorbacks’ 67-64 loss at No. 11 Baylor last Saturday, but fouled out after playing 16 minutes with 4 points, 4 rebounds and 1 blocked shot.
After missing the previous game against LSU because of a foot injury, Makhel Mitchell played 22 minutes at Baylor and had 4 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocked shots and 2 assists.
Musselman said Makhel Mitchell had been expected to miss two weeks or longer after injuring his foot the previous Saturday against Ole Miss.
“It was tough the first two days,” Makhel Mitchell said after the Texas A&M game when asked about his injury. “It was hurting really bad, a bad sprain.
“I sat out [in practice], but I was still doing stuff on the side just in case I did come back anytime soon, so I could stay in shape. I’ve just been working, getting up early for treatment with the trainer [Matt Townsend], trying to get back on the court. … Just pushing through it because I know I’m tough, and I can fight through things like that.”
Freshman guard Anthony Black said the Mitchells have been key additions for the Razorbacks.
“I think the most obvious thing they bring is just a toughness and physicality and presence inside for us,” Black said. “Getting to know them has been fun. They’re passionate and they work hard.”
When the Razorbacks returned from their exhibition games in Europe, they had a couple of weeks off before the start of the fall semester.
Rather than go home, the Mitchells stayed on campus and worked out together.
“Just trying to work on our game,” Makhi Mitchell said. “Obviously, nobody would like not playing. That was just our way of coping and wanting to get better and be part of the team.”
Black said the Mitchell twins adjusted in practice.
“They just bought in really to what the coaches want them to do,” Black said. “I think that’s why they saw an increase in their minutes and production, too.”
Musselman, a backup guard at the University of San Diego, said he understands players wanting a bigger role, especially in the case of the Mitchells after Makhi averaged 9.9 points and 7.3 rebounds last season at Rhode Island and Makhel averaged 10.7 and 5.6.
“Khi and Khel, those guys have played big minutes at Rhode Island and been in big games,” Musselman said. “But their attitude and their perseverance and their ability to come in every single day and work regardless of what happened the night before is certainly what you want as a competitor.
“You want that player to come in and be competitive enough that they’re going to try to continue to work and earn their minutes, which those two guys have done the entire season since they stepped on campus.”
Makhi Mitchell has started 21 of 22 games for the Razorbacks and is averaging 7.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 20.8 minutes with a team-high 33 blocked shots. He is shooting 61.7% (29 of 47).
It took longer for Makhel Mitchell to break into the rotation.
He’s played in 16 games, including 3 starts, and is averaging 3.9 points and 3.4 rebounds in 12.0 minutes. His 25 blocked shots are second in the team and he’s shooting 66.7% (26 of 39).
“When they were in the transfer portal, one of the things that was really important to us was looking at their analytic defensive numbers,” Musselman said. “Before they got here they were good analytically from a defensive standpoint, and they’ve certainly carried that on here as well.”
Makhel Mitchell played 61 minutes during the first 11 games, and 20 of those came in Arkansas’ 80-54 pounding of Louisville in the Maui Invitational.
“He’s going to be good,” Makhi Mitchell said early in the season when his brother wasn’t getting much playing time. “He’ll get his opportunity, and once he does he’ll make the best of it.”
Twins always know about each other.