October 06, 2007

Why I Love Sam Mitchell

Sam Mitchell isn't your average, run-of-the-mill coach. This guy is different. Just a few years removed from his own NBA playing career, Mitchell speaks candidly, honestly and pulls no punches.

Mitchell's style is refreshing, to say the least. He doesn't feed the media with the regular sports cliche's that most coaches and players do. He shoots from the hip, and has a lot of confidence. He believes in himself, and his team, and is the best coach, in any sport, the city of Toronto has seen in a long, long time.

In April of 2006, Mitchell was named the worst coach in the league in a Sports Illustrated poll of 248 NBA player's. He didn't let it effect him. He just continued to do his job, and in the Rob Babcock era of the Toronto Raptors, it wasn't easy for Mitchell to do just that. He had a terrible team, and was forced to stand by and watch as the Raptors traded away Vince Carter, the most talented player on the team and in Raptors history, for absolutely nothing. But Mitchell never complained.

Mitchell is a self-proclaimed battler. He didn't forge an NBA career out of sheer talent. He had to work hard to stay in the league and he carved out a solid career because he was a "grinder." Mitchell instills those same values in his players.

He was named Coach of the Year in April, after guiding the resurgent Raptors to a 47 win season. People tend to forget that the Raptors started last season by winning only two of their first 10 games. And Mitchell didn't have a contract extension, to boot. He was labelled a "lame-duck" coach and rumours of his firing were rampant.

Once again, Mitchell didn't let it bother him. He just continued to believe in himself, and his team, and the Raptors turned it around and ended up winning the Atlantic Division. Mitchell was justly rewarded with a new contract, and like everything else, I know it won't effect him. He'll just keep on being Sam, and that's all I can ask for.

The Raptors are overseas for training camp this year and although Mitchell wasn't too keen on the trip to Italy and Spain, he's embraced the decision and is making the most of it. As always, he's delivered some fantastic quotes while walking the streets of Venice and Rome.

I leave you with the money quotes. Remember, it's just Sam being Sam...

On having a swimming pool in the backyard of his Georgia home:
"My kids took me out to the nine-foot-deep part and let me go. I cried like a baby."

On swimming:
"You never hear about people who can't swim drowning. We're smart enough to put on a life jacket. It's always the guys you hear about – `He was a strong swimmer' – they hit their head and they're in the water and that's it."

On the constant zinging of own players:
"I am an equal-opportunity hater."

On shooting guard Juan Dixon's sunglasses:
"Those are ugly sunglasses ... y'all look like a bumble bee."

Upon Chris Bosh turning his video camera on Coach Mitchell:
"Whassup, young fella? You need a haircut."

Singling out Raptors hopeful Jamario Moon:
"Hey Moon, do they have water down there in Alabama other than in the well?"

On the Raptor's director of basketball finance (including payroll) Steve Fruitman, who was wearing a bandana on a sunny day:
"Hey Fruits, you look like you're on crack! ... You're the spitting image of Johnny Depp! You're beautiful to me, baby. As long as that cheque comes on the 15th and 30th, you're gorgeous."

On his perceived anger regarding the trip to Europe:
"I'm not grumpy about it. But if I say, `Hey guys, I'm so excited, we're going to see Rome and we're going to see this,' then people are going to say, `What the hell! He thinks he's going on a European vacation!' The headline would be, `Mitchell Too Excited About Europe.' And if I'm too dry, you guys are saying, `Oh, he ain't happy about going. It's always something."

On the shopping prospects of Europe:
"I can't wear those European-cut suits. I can't move. I have ass. I don't have these ass-less bodies that y'all have."

Now do you see why I love Sam Mitchell?

Former Toronto Raptors coach Lenny Wilkens was about as exciting as a black cup of coffee. Or one of his bland turtlenecks. Sam Mitchell is more red bull and vodka, and pinstripes, and I'm grateful for that.

Keep doing what you're doing, Sam. You the man.