Fang Mitchell

Fang Mitchell (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene Sweeney Jr. / November 14, 2011)

It’ll be a season of transition on North Avenue, as longtime Coppin State coach Fang Mitchell welcomes nine new players to the Eagles’ roster.

Coppin, which finished 14-16 one year ago, graduated its top five scorers, but has added a top transfer who is a familiar face to local basketball followers.

Mitchell spoke to The Sun last week during Hurricane Sandy as he waited for the power in his Baltimore County home to return.

You lost your top five scorers – Tony Gallo, Akeem Ellis, Michael Harper, Logan Wiens and Antonio Williams – to graduation. How do you make up for that lost production?

Well, put it this way: I’m in the dark just like I’m in the dark now. I’m trying to define that one still. I do have some decent players, but there’s no one that has really performed at the level where I would have that expectation, other than Troy Franklin. The way it seems to me, we’re probably going to have to lean on him to get some leadership and scoring from him. Basically, we’re only bringing back 15 points a game. We averaged around 77. So that’s losing a lot. We’re going to have to go through somebody. Troy might as well be the one.

Troy’s name definitely stood out as I looked over your roster. How did you land the Mount Carmel grad and former Towson point guard?

Well, when he left Towson, he enrolled in Coppin. Once he enrolled here, I recognized that he was here for real. I knew his father very well because we had the kid Ceslovas [Kucinskas], who was from his father’s AAU program, and Jordan Lee, who also played for the Baltimore Stars. His father thought Coppin was a good place to send him. We recognized that he was doing very well in his academics. I looked at it as a gamble, but it’s something that can benefit the school. I had no problems with that.

What are your expectations of him?

Well, we’re going to need some quality leadership from him. We’re in a situation here where we’re bringing in new players. It’s really like starting at the ground level. We’re going to need someone they can look up to and believe in. He would be our only senior on our squad. Doing the right things is very important. Understanding Fang Mitchell is very important. He can bring scoring to us as well as tremendous defensive capabilities to our team. At the point guard spot, that’s where it starts. That would definitely be beneficial to us.

Taariq Cephas, Brandon St. Louis, Michael Murray, Collin Johnson and Mike Simpson are back. What have you seen from them, and who do you expect to make a big jump?

Well, Cephas, as a freshman, I thought he played well last year. I see him doing that again this year. He can score. And with the lack of scoring, for us, [that’s important]. The problem is, of course, that we have two point guards. We haven’t made a decision with what we’re going to do there. He has the ability to score, so we understand that and we’re happy about that. If anything else, I would say Michael Murray, who has a tremendous amount of talent. He was probably one of the guys that were in our pattern of players that played for us last year. We need him to have something positive if we’re going to be any kind of a decent team. We see him improving and bringing that. He has been very consistent for us. We’re just going to need a lot of people to really come forward and be able to contribute.

What about the other newcomers? Which ones do you like so far?

Well, Andre Armstrong is a tremendous shooter for us. With my type of team, we’re very versatile. We try to bring in those types of players, but also try to bring in 3-point shooters. He has been pretty good for us so far this year. We have him, and we also have Pat Cole, a kid from the Robinson School last year. He’s like a 6-5 point guard. He can really play any position from 1 to 4. He's showed a lot of talent to us so far this year. We’re going to lean on him to be able to score points for us as well as rebound. We have a freshman, Zach Burnham, who we feel like will be able to contribute to the team on the inside for us. We have Charles Ieans, a 6-9 kid, who has a lot of work to do still, but he’s getting better. Each practice we see him getting better and better. As I tell people, this is not a situation where positive things are going to happen early. It’s going to take some time [for the team to] understand what I want and move forward from that point on.

With so much turnover, what can be expected out of Coppin this year? What’s the goal?

Well, I’ll never change the way I feel about each upcoming season. I’m not going to be able to predict where we will be, but I know we’ll strive to win each and every time we go on the floor. I know for a fact that won’t change this year. The good thing is we have quality prospects in the program. A lot of good things happen with quality people with good character, people who are determined. We always start with how hard you play. We always want that to be the trademark of a Fang Mitchell team. Prediction-wise, we can just predict that we’re going to play hard in each and every game we play.

mbracken@baltsun.com

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