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Tuesday, June 29, 2004
Updated: June 30, 5:43 PM ET
This time, Mitchell's the choice

Associated Press

TORONTO -- Sam Mitchell understands there might be questions about his inexperience as a head coach going into his first season leading the Toronto Raptors.

So he has a few answers.

Tue, June 29
Sam Mitchell is a perfect hire for the Raptors and one that I hope will signal a level of stability in the franchise. Despite Mitchell's limited tenure as an assistant coach, he's more than ready to take on the responsibility of a head coach. He's played for great coaches like Flip Saunders and Larry Brown and has garnered great accolades from them as a locker room leader. Mitchell wasn't blessed with phenomenal talent as a player, but he succeeded on the court due to his work ethic and ability to learn. I fully expect him to do the same as the head coach of the Raptors.

Mitchell, hired Tuesday just two years after he retired as a player, will rely on his assistants to help him out.

Mitchell, who played in the NBA for 13 years, was an assistant coach for the expansion Charlotte Bobcats for the past month. After playing for Minnesota and Indiana, Mitchell spent two years as an assistant with Milwaukee before leaving for Charlotte.

"I understand the concerns ... that's why we're going to have a great support staff around me," said Mitchell, who is expected to add longtime NBA assistant Jim Todd to his staff. "We're going to have guys that have coached many years."

The Raptors gave Mitchell a three-year contract worth nearly $5 million.

Mitchell was a candidate for the Raptors' job last season before it went to Kevin O'Neill, who was fired after a 33-49 season.

The Raptors fired general manager Glen Grunwald during the season and recently replaced him with Rob Babcock, Minnesota's former vice president of player personnel.

Mitchell and Babcock know each other well. The 40-year-old Mitchell spent 10 seasons with Minnesota, and served as a mentor to league MVP Kevin Garnett, who jumped to the NBA from high school. Mitchell is the club's leader in games played at 757, and was second in scoring with 7,161 points.

Sam Mitchell
Sam Mitchell was seen as the go-to guy Tuesday, but he said he'll lean heavily on his staff as new Raptors coach.

"Sam was more than a player, he was like a player/unofficial assistant coach," Babcock said. "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 Kevin McHale, with myself."

The Raptors chose Mitchell over Seattle SuperSonics assistant Dwane Casey and Detroit Pistons assistant Mike Woodson.

"Sam doesn't have a big ego. He knows he has some things to work on and learn," Babcock said. "I guarantee with his work ethic and his desire to learn, he's going to be a much better coach in February than he is in November."

Mitchell -- Toronto's third coach in the last three years -- takes over a team that's been decimated by injuries. Raptors star Vince Carter hasn't played a complete season in four years.

Mitchell missed just 40 games during his playing career due to injury or illness. Mitchell wants to meet with Carter.

"We have to get Vince's heart and passion back into it. We need his all, just being here is not enough," Mitchell said. "We need Vince back motivated and ready to play."

He said he'll implement an up-tempo offense.

Asked whether the Raptors are good enough to make the playoffs next season, Mitchell smiled and said: "I sure hope so."

Mitchell hopes to replicate the success of first-year Milwaukee coach Terry Porter, whose team surprised many by holding the fourth playoff position in the East until the final day of the regular season. Porter was an assistant for just one year before becoming a head coach.

"We had a goal to shock everybody in the NBA by making the playoffs. Whether that's going to happen here, I don't know, but we're going to work to be a playoff team," Mitchell said.