Mitchell talks Coppin's 2008 recruiting class
Last season Fang Mitchell led the Coppin State men’s basketball team to one of the more improbable seasons in NCAA history.
The Eagles suffered through a 20-loss season before catching fire down the stretch, winning 12 of their last 13 games, including an upset of Morgan State in the MEAC championship, which earned the team an NCAA tournament berth. It was the first time a 20-loss team made the tournament.
This season, Mitchell returns the team’s leading scorer Tywain McKee, to the roster. But Mitchell must replace the other four starters, all of whom graduated.
Mitchell will look to his 2008 recruiting class to help make up for that lost production. The Eagles are bringing in four freshmen this season: Loch Raven shooting guard Jordan Lee, Mount St. Joseph point guard Justin McCoy, Milwaukee Custer guard Michael Harper and Philadelphia North Catholic guard Lenny Young.
Mitchell spoke with Recruiting Report recently about Coppin’s 2008 recruiting class.
Give us a brief overview of the four-man class you’re bringing in.
Well the four guys that we’re bringing in -- I’ve always believed you can win with guard-play, so the four new guys we’re bringing in will help us in that area. We have an athletic small forward in Michael Harper, a scorer in Jordan Lee, a point guard in Justin McCoy and a 1-2 in Lenny Young.
What have you seen from McCoy and what do you expect from him?
Well I think he comes from a great family. His father was real good player at Morgan State. He comes from a solid program at Mount St. Joe’s with coach Pat Clatchey. I just looked at him as someone whose upside is tremendous. I think he learns and he knows how to play the game. He’s a solid basketball player. And I just think he’s going to get better as he plays.
What type of player is McCoy?
He’s one of those guys that’s going to force you to make the play. He’s capable of being on the floor defensively. He spent a lot of time at Mount St. Joe’s on the floor. I just look at him as a solid player that can play both offense and defense. I don’t think that’s going to change much. He works hard, and that just always makes you better.
Lee developed quite a reputation as a scorer last season at Loch Raven. Do you expect him to bring that scorer’s mentality to Coppin?
There’s no question. I definitely needed someone that could score to be able to play, especially with [just] McKee coming back. I thought that would be a great addition for us. It’s not hard to tell him, ‘what I need you to do is score for me.’ That’s something he can do. I just hope he’s mature -- because he is young -- and be able to give us the defensive help as well as help on the offensive end. I think that’s going to be critical in him playing.
When did you identify McCoy and Lee as potential recruits?
Well the fact is that we have a kid on our team from one of the AAU teams [in town] -- the Baltimore Stars -- Ceslovas Kucinskas. Both of those gentlemen played on the Stars, so we did have a chance to see them early. So that definitely helped. We got Ceslovas, and he has not made me regret having him. I look at these kids being in the same mold as determined type of players.
How important is it to land a couple of Baltimore guys in this class?
Well I think it’s very important. People have been saying for years that we didn’t want Baltimore players, and that’s one of the biggest lies ever told. What happened is we didn’t have the opportunity to get the great Baltimore players. When I had the opportunity to have somebody out of a Mount St. Joe’s (like McCoy) or a Mount Carmel (like Kucinskas) ... I jumped at that opportunity. I think that’ll make people recognize that we are looking for talent within the city as well as the state. We have an outstanding recruiter in Larry Tucker, who went Dunbar High School, and we’re aggressively recruiting the Baltimore area. We’re hopeful the success of these kids will allow us to get more.
How did you discover Harper?
That was our assistant, Jay Dull, who has some [contacts] that had seen him play in Wisconsin. We had an opportunity to see him and from that point on we pursued him heavily, brought him down for a visit. He was a kid who was all-area up in Wisconsin, averaged about 14 points a game. I really and truly like how he plays. He’s very athletic, can get to the hole as well as shoot the jump shot. When we lost as many guards as we did, we had to bring in some quality people and we did. There’s a lot of playing time [available that] will be based on how well they play defense. And we’ve always been known for defense. I think these young men are capable of scoring, but it’s going to come down to the defense when we put them on the floor.
Is Harper known for his defense?
I think he has the ability to play it. Defense is an individual thing. If you want to play it, you’ll play it. Hopefully these young men understand that [we’ve got to get our defense] straightened out early. Because we don’t have a lot of time before we go out on the road and start playing some of the bigger schools in the country.
How did your staff find out about Young?
Well we went to watch another kid, and when we went to watch the other kid, we saw him and recognized he’d be a solid player for us. He can put the ball on the floor and get to the basket. He’s a penetrator as well as a shooter. The fact that he can play both positions, 1 and 2, that would be helpful for our team. Our rule is you can never have too many guards.
Which of these freshmen do you expect to make immediate impacts?
Well, to be honest with you, Jordan Lee is coming in with the biggest stats of all of them. I’m looking for him to bring some scoring to the court. But again, it’s going to take more than just offense to keep you on the floor. Rebounding is important as well as the defense. To me, rebounding is connected with defense, because of the fact that if you don’t rebound the basketball, you’re still playing defense. So I always look at it that way. You have to finish it. You don’t go on offense until you get the ball. Whoever comes and shows us they’re capable of those things will be playing. There are a lot of holes out there since we’re only bringing back one starter, so there’s an opportunity for a lot of people.
Has recruiting been easier since Coppin made the NCAA tournament this year?
Anytime you go to the NCAA tournament, it’s helpful. All they’ve got to see is the name on the board. They recognize you’ve been successful, so that definitely helps in our recruiting. [Making the tournament makes] it a lot easier for our guys that were trying to make up their mind in whether they wanted to go to Coppin or not. They also saw that our program has been pretty strong for a lot of years, so people are aware of that. The combination of [recent and past success has] helped people in recognizing the program.
Do you feel this class filled your needs?
We probably could have taken another big guy if we had to, but if I don’t have big guys, I’ve got to have good guards. So I’m satisfied with where we’re at now and we’ll proceed. I think the recruiting is just going to get better. We have our new arena that’s supposed to be ready in the fall of ’09. I just read on a Web site that ESPN ranked our program No. 90 in the last 15 years. So anytime we present ourselves in the top 100 [in the country] and the No. 1 program in the MEAC, that doesn’t hurt our recruiting.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about the team?
The biggest thing I say is that normally the early part of the year is always rough. But the bottom line is this: Watch us late.
Sun photo of Fang Mitchell by Gene Sweeney Jr. / March 18, 2008