In my mind, Sam Mitchell is the best basketball player I ever personally saw play at Mercer.
Unfortunately I did not get to witness Glenn Wilkes or Tommy Mixon in action, but that was a different era when set shots were more the order of the day as compared to the jump shot, which has been refined during the past half century.
Its kind of funny how Mitchell wound up at Mercer to begin with. The late Charlie Warren, the Bears assistant coach under Bill Bibb, was actually recruiting one of Mitchells teammates at Columbus High School when he saw Mitchell and thought he might be a good fit for the Bears. And he certainly turned out to be. I remember his first game of significance when he was a freshman and made two critical free throws in the final minute to beat Jacksonville on the road 83-81 when the Dolphins were members of the Sun Belt Conference and coached by Bob Wenzel.
That was in the early stages of his career that saw him become Mercers all-time scoring leader with 1,986 points to eclipse the former standard of 1,801 by Mixon. Both of those marks have been passed, as James Florence, who played between 2006-2010, setting the current Mercer record with 2,286.
One difference between Florence and Mitchell and Mixon was that Florence played in the 3-point shot era. Florence appeared in seven more games than Mitchell and was credited with 242 3-point baskets during his career.
As a senior, Mitchell finished fifth in the nation in scoring with a 25.0 average while leading the Bears to the NCAA East Regionals in Atlanta, where they dropped a 65-58 decision to ACC champion Georgia Tech at The Omni. The 1985 trip was the second for Mercer in a five-year span, and the Bears have not been back to the tournament since that appearance.
That said, prospects for that drought to end this year are extremely good.
Following his college days, Mitchell began a professional career that spanned 17 years. He was a third-round draft choice of the Houston Rockets and was the final man cut. He then toiled in the CBA and USBL for three seasons before heading to Europe, where he played two more years in France. He was then being picked up by the expansion Minnesota Timberwolves and Bill Musselman. Musselman had coached Mitchell in the CBA and knew what he was getting.
Mitchell went on to play 13 years in the NBA with two stints in Minnesota sandwiched around a three-year stay with the Indiana Pacers. He averaged 8.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.1 assists. He is still the second all-time leading scorer and third all-time leading rebounder in Timberwolves history.
After his playing days, he embarked on an NBA coaching career, spending two seasons as an assistant with the Milwaukee Bucks and a brief time with the Charlotte Bobcats as their top assistant before being named head coach of the Toronto Raptors. In five seasons in Toronto, he led the Raptors to their first division title and was named the NBA coach of the year in 2006-07. Following an 8-9 start to the 2008-09 campaign he was fired and then caught on as an assistant with the New Jersey Nets for two years. He left that team and coaching all together in December of 2010.
Today he talks more about basketball than he plays or coaches. He hosts a daily talk show in his hometown of Columbus with plans to take the show national. He also does two shows each weekend on a station in Atlanta in addition to working on NBATV as an analyst. He has had the opportunity to get back on the bench on several occasions as an assistant in the NBA but has declined. If the right college head coaching job came along, he would probably take a long look at it.
Mitchell knows basketball, and I know some team, NBA or college, would do well to secure his services.
Contact Bobby Pope at firstname.lastname@example.org