Hall induction caps Mitchell’s big week

This has been one busy week for Sam Mitchell.

He returned home earlier this week from eight days in Africa with some friends, then he promptly headed on a Walt Disney World vacation with his family.

And he’s ending the week in style, with his induction tonight into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.

Mitchell joins co-Mercer alum and golfer Ed Everett, as well as Ron Simmons, Suzanne Yoculan, Ernie Johnson Sr., Larry Rakestraw and Al Ciraldo Sr. as the Class of 2010.

Mitchell played in the Hall’s golf tournament on Friday and attended Friday night’s jacket ceremony at the Hall. And he’ll have assorted teammates and coaches on hand for tonight’s induction.

“When you’re working and doing stuff, you don’t think about those things,” the 2007 NBA Coach of the Year said. “You don’t think about trying to be part of a hall of fame, or something that’s going to last forever.

“That’s not your intention of doing something. Your intention is because that’s what you’ve decided you want to do, that’s what you have a passion for.”

And Mitchell has had a passion for basketball, since before he graduated from Columbus and was a skinny kid that few college teams wanted.

Mercer and then-head coach Bill Bibb did, and if it was a gamble, it more than paid off.

“A lot of people who did recruit me, because I was so thin — I was tall but I was thin — wanted me to redshirt,” Mitchell said. “Coach Bibb told me flat out, ‘if you’re good enough to play, you’ll play.’ ”

Mitchell started as a freshman, which rankled some upperclassmen. Bibb, never known to sugarcoat anything, didn’t want to hear it.

“Coach Bibb told them to quit,” Mitchell said. “He said, ‘you’re in my office mad at me because a freshman beat you out. You should be mad at yourself, not me.’ ”

Mitchell’s induction comes at an interesting time.

James Florence surpassed him as Mercer’s all-time leading scorer in December, and this is the 25th anniversary of the Bears winning the Trans America Athletic Conference championship and reaching the NCAA tournament.

Mercer has a homecourt advantage in the A-Sun tournament, which it will host March 3-6.

Mitchell will try to see at least part of Mercer’s regular-season home finale this afternoon against Jacksonville, with the Bears honoring Florence and co-seniors Danny Emerson, E.J. Kusnyer, Brendan Walker and BeJay Corley.

The former scoring leader has seen his successor a few times.

“I think the young man’s good enough to have a chance to play at the next level, if that’s what he wants,” Mitchell said of Florence. “I really do.”

Mitchell, who played for 13 seasons in the NBA and is awaiting a call to return to NBA coaching, didn’t give getting passed a second thought.

“Records are made to be broken,” he said. “It doesn’t bother me that he broke it. Hell, I broke somebody’s record, and hopefully, somebody will break his. That’s just life.”

Mitchell did give his induction a second thought, although he didn’t pay much attention during the early stages of the process.

“Just being considered is a big enough honor,” he said. “And you just kind of leave it at that.”

He was leaving a gym after working out when Mercer athletics director and Hall executive committee chairman Bobby Pope called him with the news.

“It’s something (that) when you set out to do what you do, that’s not your goal,” said Mitchell, who lives in Peachtree City. “You’re goal is just to make it in the field you’re in.

“Obviously, you’re shocked, you’re stunned. You don’t know if you’re quite deserving. It’s a lot of emotion. To get nominated is an honor. To actually get in is unbelievable.”

Quotable: Sam Mitchell

“Sam was more than a player, he was like a player/unofficial assistant coach. He was the type of guy who would stay after practice every day, not just to work on his game but also to talk the game with the coaches, with (Minnesota general manager) Kevin McHale, with myself.”

— Rob Babcock, Toronto Raptors general manager

“He (Mitchell) just loves to teach the game of basketball. When you do something well, you have a passion for it. Sam definitely has a passion for teaching.”

— Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves teammate

“The one thing they (the Toronto Raptors) do is they play hard and they play aggressive. That’s how he (Mitchell) played.”

— Flip Saunders, Minnesota Timberwolves head coach