Fang Mitchell clearly remembers his first win as Coppin State's basketball coach. It came in 1986 and was played at the Community College of Baltimore.
"We were 0-9 at the time and it came against North Carolina A&T, which was dominating the conference. They had won seven straight championships," Mitchell, now in his 25th season at Coppin State, recalled Friday. "It was a very big win in many ways. I had come from Gloucester Community where we had only lost 45 games [in eight years], so it was a big relief to win one."
Another 398 have followed in the quarter of a century since, including the 1989 win over Maryland and first-year coach Gary Williams — who Mitchell had worked for as a volunteer assistant on Williams' first high school team in Camden, N.J. — and the school's only victory in the NCAA tournament over South Carolina in 1997.
Monday night's game at Charlotte (6-2) might be a chance for Mitchell to reach the 400-win milestone, but the 63-year-old is just looking for his team to win for the fifth time in 10 games this season.
"It's a funny thing. Each game I approach like we're trying to get that first win [in 1986]," said Mitchell, who also won 225 games as a junior college coach in New Jersey. "What it means is that I've been very fortunate to have the longevity that I have had at a place like Coppin and have been able to coach a lot of great talent. I'm very appreciative of that."
Senior guard Tony Gallo said that the players are aware of Mitchell being on the brink of a significant win, but like their coach, "we really haven't focused on it, we're just focused on winning games." But Gallo, the team's leading scorer at more than 19 points a game, added, "It will be nice to get it for coach."
Mitchell, whose return to Coppin State this season seemed uncertain after last season, said that he is mostly concerned with his team's improvement before it starts play in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference next month.
"We're getting better," he said.