Returning NBA Coach Profile: Sam Mitchell (Minnesota Timberwolves)

Ryan Loftis By Ryan Loftis, 30th Sep 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Sports>Basketball

A profile of Sam Mitchell, the new interim head coach of the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves.

Early Years

Sam Mitchell was born on Sept. 2, 1963, in Columbus, Ga., and played at Mercer University in Macon, Ga., from 1981-85. Mitchell earned Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Year honors in 1985, the same year he led the Bears to the conference championship and a spot in the NCAA tournament. He still holds several school records today, including scoring in a season and field goals made in a career. Mitchell was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.

NBA Delay

The Houston Rockets chose Mitchell with the 54th overall pick in the 1985 draft, but his NBA debut would have to wait. He spent three years in the Continental Basketball Association, winning a championship with the Rapid City Thrillers, and then played professionally in France for two seasons.

Mitchell signed as a free agent with the expansion Minnesota Timberwolves in July 1989 and spent three seasons with them before being traded to the Indiana Pacers in September 1992. After three seasons in Indiana, he rejoined the Timberwolves in September 1995 and remained with them until his retirement in August 2002. He averaged 8.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game during his 13-year career.

Toronto Raptors

Mitchell quickly transitioned from playing to coaching, serving as an assistant on the Milwaukee Bucks' coaching staff from 2002-04. He was briefly the expansion Charlotte Bobcats' lead assistant coach before being hired as the Toronto Raptors' head coach in June 2004. The Raptors posted losing records in Mitchell's first two seasons but caught fire in his third, winning 47 games (a 20-win improvement from the previous season), capturing their first-ever Atlantic Division title, and earning home court advantage in the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Mitchell was named Coach of the Year for the 2006-07 season, becoming the first Raptors coach ever to win the award.

The Raptors made their second consecutive playoff appearance in the 2007-08 season, but Mitchell was fired in December 2008 following a 39-point loss to the Denver Nuggets that dropped the team to 8-9. The Toronto Star described the loss that sealed Mitchell's fate as "shocking for the manner in which it occurred. After winning two of their last three games and having what Mitchell called a great practice the day before, the Raptors were listless and lifeless from the opening tip." Mitchell left Toronto with a 156-189 overall record.

Return to Minnesota

Mitchell's next NBA job was as a New Jersey Nets assistant coach from 2010-11. He interviewed for the Minnesota Timberwolves' vacant head coaching position in 2014, but team president Flip Saunders ultimately decided to give himself the job. Instead, Mitchell was hired as a Timberwolves assistant coach in June 2014. The Timberwolves finished the 2014-15 season an NBA-worst 16-66, but on they landed the first overall pick in the 2015 draft and used it to select 6-11 Karl-Anthony Towns from Kentucky.

Saunders was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma in summer 2015. On Sept. 11, the Timberwolves announced that Saunders would be taking a leave of absence due to complications from his finished treatments and Mitchell would serve as interim head coach. Mitchell said in a statement: "My thoughts right now are with Flip and the Saunders family. In the interim, I am confident that I can continue to build the foundation that Flip has established. We have a team blended with talented young guys and experienced veterans. We're excited to see how this team comes together in training camp."


Minnesota Timberwolves, Sam Mitchell, Toronto Raptors

Meet the author

author avatar Ryan Loftis
I graduated from Central Michigan University with a journalism degree and have been a freelance writer for various print and online publications since then.

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