Q&A with Coppin State coach Fang Mitchell

For the past four seasons, Tywain McKee dazzled local college basketball followers as the ever-reliable, always-dangerous go-to player for Coppin State.

Come fall, the Eagles’ all-time leading scorer will be playing professional basketball somewhere. Meanwhile, longtime Coppin coach Fang Mitchell will attempt to make up for the lost production of McKee, one of the greatest players in school history.

Power forward Brian Chestnut and shooting guard Chuka Iloegbu also graduated, leaving Mitchell with two more holes to fill.

To address those departures, Mitchell is bringing in five newcomers to the Eagles’ roster: Monroe (N.Y.) Community College shooting guard Kareem Brown, St. Thomas More (Conn.) power forward Branden Doughty, Digital Harbor point guard George Jackson, San Antonio (Texas) James Madison forward Jonathan Landry and San Jose (Calif.) City College shooting guard Quinston Reggins.

Brown, 6-2, averaged 15 points per game as a sophomore, leading Monroe to a 30-7 record. He played in the National Junior College Athletic Association All-Star game. Doughty, 6-8, 210 pounds, is an Upper Marlboro native who attended Riverdale Baptist before enrolling at St. Thomas More. He spent last year attending classes at Coppin, and will have four years of eligibility starting this fall. Jackson, 5-11, averaged 19.5 points, 6.5 assists and 2.5 steals as a senior, leading Digital Harbor to the 1A state championship. Landry, 6-5, 215 pounds, averaged 11.8 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, helping Madison to a 34-2 record and a No. 5 national ranking. He was a San Antonio News-Express Super Team selection. Reggins, 6-1, was one of the top-ranked JUCO guards in California after a standout prep career in Houston.

Mitchell spoke with Recruiting Report recently about his incoming class.You’re losing the leading scorer in Coppin history in Tywain McKee, not to mention Chestnut and Iloegbu. With that in mind, how did you approach this recruiting class?

Well I definitely understood losing Tywain was going to be a tremendous loss, so we really tried to focus on the guard position and bring in some people that would help us in that position. Chuka was another guard, so we lost two. Our main concentration was on guard, but we also needed a big guy to replace Brian Chestnut and what he had given us. So that was our main focus and we really didn’t have an opportunity to wait. We really needed somebody now. That’s why we went to the JUCO ranks.

How did you get Landry to commit so early in the process?

We saw him during the summer. We did feel he was a sleeper. He could do a lot of things, being 6’5 and strong. We just felt that it was a great opportunity if we could sign him. So we worked hard getting him to sign with us early.

Is it safe to say he would’ve earned more offers had he waited until spring to sign?

It would have been very, very tough to get him and I’m well aware of that. So we’re pleased with the fact that we did sign him early. And we’re just looking forward to it because he is a complete player. He can score as well as rebound.

Is he sort of an undersized power forward?

Well he can play power forward and small forward. We’re looking for him to play the small forward spot. And the way we play, with four guards, he’s ideal for us.

Did his strong senior year surprise you, or did you know what you were getting the whole time?

We knew what we were getting the whole time. We had spoken to him about things he needed to work on. But the biggest thing I always look for is someone who is used to winning, and his team won. That became a plus for us. The fact that he was on a high school team that was successful [was important], and that helps when it comes to the next level. He’s used to winning. His high school was [nationally] ranked most of the year.

Kareem was one of the top JUCO recruits in the country. How did you get involved with him?

I went to the [NJCAA] Division II championships up in Illinois. So I got an opportunity to see him play there. We recognized the fact that he’s a real good player and he could shoot the basketball. You can never have enough shooters. We looked at it as another opportunity to get a good player in here, so we were fortunate. He came down, liked me, liked the school and it became history from that point on.

Reggins was another big-time JUCO player. Where did you discover him, and how did you pull him from California?

Well my assistants had an opportunity to see him first. We recognized from the beginning that he was a real good player. It was a situation where we were recruiting him all year long. Given the opportunity, there’s not many times that people come into Coppin and not like what they see here. He came for the visit and it was just a great opportunity for him as well as for us. He liked it here and decided to come. He got along with the players and the coaching staff. It’s a great fit as far as I was concerned. But again, it’s the same concept: trying to find players who came from winning squads.

Will a combination of Brown and Reggins be expected to fill in for McKee?

Well, it’s all up in the air. It’s one of those situations where you can’t say that because we’re still bringing in a George Jackson that did so much for Digital Harbor. He’s still a freshman, but he’s a very good basketball player at point guard. I’m just looking at them fighting it out on the basketball court. You can never have enough guards has always been my philosophy.

When is the first time you remember seeing George Jackson?

Coach Larry Tucker has been on him a long time. He saw him play and recommended me to see him play also. It’s been this year as far as when I saw him play. But Tucker had watched him play last year also. It’s a situation with him where we knew he came from a great family. His father was a great player and he’s a great player. It was just a no-brainer as far as we were concerned. He definitely can help us and we recognize that.

Is he a true 1 or more of a combo guard?

He’s a true 1. He will distribute the basketball and score also. You have that combination, but he will look to get people the ball and that’s something that’s very important to me. And he’ll play defense. The type of defense that he’ll have to play here is entirely different from where he came from, and that’s not putting the high school down. It’s just another level [in college]. He’s the type of kid that will be able to do that.

You’ve always gone after Baltimore guys, but how important is it to land a guy from such a successful program like Digital Harbor?

It’s very important to just get quality players. Digital Harbor had a very successful year last year and it’s the same thing, once again, of looking for those programs that basically have those athletes that understand what winning is about. It becomes so important to them that they will accept nothing other than that. Those are the ones I always felt will work the hardest. You have to be hungry and I think it was a very important thing to get him considering the fact that in the Baltimore area, he’s well known as far as being a player. The more of them that we can get, especially the big-name players from Baltimore, the better it will be for us. I’ve always looked to try to get as many Baltimore players I can get because it’s definitely a quality area.

When did Doughty commit to Coppin?

The night before his senior year, I talked with Coach [Jere] Quinn at St. Thomas More. He told me [Doughty] was interested and we got a chance to look at him. I liked what I saw and I recruited him down to Coppin. He had to go do a year [of school] here and at the present time he’s raring to go.

What do you expect from him this year?

We’re still going to look for him to be somebody to rebound the basketball for us and maybe be able to block a few shots now and then and score. We’re looking for all three from him. We lost Brian Chestnut and we definitely need somebody who’s going to come in and give us that ingredient of rebounding and scoring.

Because he’s been out of high school a couple years, does that make him more ready to contribute right away than a typical freshman?

It will only make him a little more ready if he’s been working on it. But it’s a better situation of having somebody who’s been out of high school and had a year or two behind him before they really start their college career. They become a little more seasoned and a little more mature. Those are the things that are definitely helpful.

Which newcomers will you expect to make the greatest impact?

I never promise major minutes for anybody, so I just look at everybody being in the loop. In practice, and conditioning, how they come in is how they’re going to determine their playing time.

Did you notice any effect from making the NCAA tournament in 2008 on the recruiting trail?

The tournament did help us in being able to get some of these players. Successful players want to be in successful programs. The fact that we went to the tournament a couple of years ago makes people aware that we are capable of getting there. People want to be a part of that.

With these five newcomers plus your returners, what can fans expect from Coppin this season?

Well I think we’ll be competitive. Losing Tywain McKee is a big one, but I have to create a situation where we’re going to be competitive in the MEAC with the players that we have. I think we’re capable of competing. I’m looking forward to a challenging year ahead. When you have a situation where you lost the players that we lost the past year, it’s very challenging to piece something together that will be successful. But I’m just really looking forward to it.

Baltimore Sun photo by Gene Sweeney Jr. / March 14, 2008

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