Q&A with Coppin State coach Fang Mitchell
It's been an unusual recruiting cycle for Coppin State men's basketball coach Fang Mitchell.
Mitchell guided the Eagles to a 16-14 record last season, but his team lost four scholarships -- three this year and one next season -- because of Coppin's Academic Progress Rate. With 10 scholarship players coming back for another season, Mitchell had no scholarships to give for the 2011 class.
Mitchell also had to deal with questions about his future at Coppin thanks to his expiring contract. In May, after months of uncertainty, the university gave the 63-year-old coach a three-year extension.
While there were no new recruits to talk about this year, Mitchell spoke to Recruiting Report last week about his 2011-12 Eagles squad:
We'll start with the departures. Talk about the guys you've lost.
We lost Branden Doughty. He transferred. He went to Bowie [State]. So we did lose him. And we really only bring three starters back because we lost [Vince] Goldsberry and Ceslovas [Kucinskas]. This is probably one of the deeper squads that we’ve brought back, though. We’re bringing back some of our top scorers when you look at the offensive end.
How important is it for you to have all that experience returning?
Well after last year and learning a lot of new faces adapting to Division I basketball, I think with a year under their belt, they understand what to expect. I thought that was a major problem in the [MEAC] tournament because for the students, it was their first time going through that experience. There’s nothing like experience. After they went through that year, I do think they’re going to be a lot better prepared for the tough road schedule that we normally have. They understand the system a lot better. They understand me a lot better. Hopefully that will turn into a smoother transition for us.
Goldsberry is certainly a big loss in that he was a four-year player and your starting point guard. How do you make up for that?
Well that’s going to be tough. That’s going to be tough. We’re going to have to have some people step up. Akeem Ellis is a key player. He played small forward for us last year. We’re hoping he can adapt to the point guard spot. That will help, along with Tony Gallo. At least he had the experience of being through this. And we look for them to be able to help us in that transition to try to help relieve the loss of Vince Goldsberry. No question, he was one of the quickest guards in the conference. He did a lot for us as far as leadership is concerned.
And how do you try to replace Kucinskas?
That’s a little tougher because he’s a big, strong banger. We haven’t been able to bring in anyone else that’s his size. But we do have a person that didn’t play last year – a 6-8 kid named Logan Wiens. We’re looking for him to come in and try to help.
Wiens redshirted last year after transferring from a JUCO. What does he bring to the table?
Well he is a very intelligent player. He passes well, but he can put the ball on the floor and he can also shoot it. He just adds shooting. We led the conference in 3-point shooting, and Logan adds another 3-point shooter. He won’t hurt us there. He won’t give us the posting that Ceslovas gave us inside, but he does give us another scorer. He does rebound. I’m happy to have him because he can be the missing link that we need to fill that spot.
Are there are any non-scholarship guys you've added?
Well people came to us and there’s people that wanted to walk-on and recognized that we didn’t have scholarships. But they were seeing it as an opportunity to be able to come here and more or less play. We benefited from that. We got a couple players that want to walk-on. It’s a situation where there’s nothing you can do. You just bring them in. There’s no scholarships, but we focused on bringing people in for 2012 as well.
What will be the identity of this team, especially compared to some of your previous teams?
It’s different because of the fact that it’s more of a scoring team than a defensive team. We’ve had a lot of success because of our defense and not necessarily our offense. It is different. But we were making progress toward the end of the year on the defensive end. The way I look at it is if we start from that point on and continue to get better, I think we’ll be in pretty good shape.
Who are you counting on to step up this year?
I think Jordan Lee will step his game up. Last year came after a year of him being away from playing. It’s always that next year that you’re getting used to the system. I think that he’ll step up his game this year and be the player we’ve always known he was capable of being. We still would look for solid contributions from Michael Harper, who has been very consistent. He was our leading scorer. And I do think Akeem Ellis will step his game up and be the guard that we really need.
We’re looking for Tony Gallo to come back also with what he had given us earlier in the year. He had hurt his shoulder, and his average went down a little bit. But we feel he’s going to contribute to our success as well as someone like Michael Murray, who started coming on at the end of the year and contributing to our positive finish.
You obviously didn't have any scholarships to give for 2011, but on the trail with future classes, did the uncertainty over your contract status make things difficult?
It was tough. And I’m glad, in a way, that in recruiting we didn’t have any scholarships. We weren’t hurt as bad as we normally would be with the fact of my contract situation up in the air. People didn’t know if I was going to be here, and it did hurt some. But like I said, that’s what life is all about. You have those ups and downs. Yes, it contributed to [recruiting difficulties] and now because of that some people still don’t know what I’m back. There hasn’t been any formal announcement from Coppin saying that ‘Fang is here.’ People say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that you were back.’ It affects [recruiting], so I’m glad it’s behind me. I’m telling as many people as I can that I’m back, and I will be back for at least the next three years.
What are you most looking forward to this season?
I’m looking forward to just having the opportunity to coach these kids. It’s a great group of young men I had last year. We were like a family. They really care for one another and they really compete. That’s basically all I ask – that they compete and just want to win. I really truly think this group wants to win. They want to do the right things. They’ve done the right things for me academically as well as on the court. We did tremendous in the classroom. I look forward to another year with this group.
With so many returners, what's the expectation for this season?
With the experience coming back, if we can resolve that gap in the middle with Ceslovas not being there, and I’m pretty sure the transition of Akeem Ellis to the point guard spot [will go well], then I’m pretty sure that we should be in the mix this year to challenge for the [MEAC] championship.
Baltimore Sun photo of Fang Mitchell by Karl Merton Ferron / Dec. 4, 2010