The stretch of Interstate 95 from Baltimore to Philadelphia is a little more than 100 miles, and it’s a drive Coppin State coach Ron “Fang” Mitchell has made plenty of times.
Mitchell, who has coached the Eagles since 1986, got his start in coaching outside of Philadelphia at Gloucester Community College in Northern New Jersey. When Coppin State, which is in Baltimore, hired Mitchell, he didn’t forget the players of Philadelphia and instead took advantage of his past experiences, using the area as his main recruiting talent pool.
Jay Nagle, the high school editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, said Mitchell and the Coppin State staff know Philadelphia is a good source for talent.
“There is a connection between (Coppin State) and the players and the city, and they know they can come up (to Philadelphia) and find good players,” Nagle said. “The players might not necessarily be the ones that land on a Big 5 roster in Philadelphia, but an 1 1/2, 2 hours away they can play Division I ball.”
The incentives of hometown talent
Ted Silary of the Philadelphia Daily News said players from Philadelphia have an attitude that appeals to coaches. In neighborhood, summertime games, if players perform poorly in front of family members and friends, that would mean more than playing college basketball because those are the games they will always remember.
“They like to think they have that attitude, and that’s half the battle,” Silary said. “And I think the coaches perceive that.”
Philadelphia's hoops history
Philadelphia’s history of high school players helps explain Mitchell’s repeated recruiting visits. Philadelphia is known, along with Chicago, Los Angeles and others, as one of the best basketball cities.
“The track record of players that have come out of this city over the decade, I think, speaks for itself,” Nagle said.
The streets of Philadelphia have produced Wilt Chamberlain, an NBA Hall of Famer as well as Kobe Bryant, a future Hall-of-Famer.
Eleven other NBA players went to high school in Philadelphia, including Aaron McKie, Cuttino Mobley, Ronald “Flip” Murray, Malik Rose and Rasheed Wallace.
Recently, though, the Eagles’ recruiting in Philadelphia has suffered, and the program, as a result, struggled. In 2001-02, only one of the players, since departed point guard Rasheem Sims, called Philadelphia home. On Feb. 22, 2002, Mitchell told the Baltimore Sun that his team needed to be changed.
“Our school is the same, the arena is the same, the coaches are the same,” Mitchell told the Sun. “The only difference is the players. They lack a hungriness and love for the game. We have spoiled young people who’ve been catered to. We have to go out and recruit people who want to fight you right down to the wire.
“The big boys always get the best, but we were always in the cracks. Now, you’ve got to worry about not only talent but attitude too. Responsibility is lacking.”
When the 2001-02 season ended, the Eagles had won six of 31 games and finished 10th in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. To resurrect a proud program with a bruised ego, Mitchell returned to recruiting in Philadelphia, bringing in six players from the city.
With the rediscovered Philadelphia connection, the Eagles faltered early in 2002-03, winning once in their first 10 games. Six of those games, though, came against teams from major conferences. The Eagles managed to improve their record to 11-17 but finished four games better than .500 in the MEAC in fourth.
High hopes for this season
This season, a young group of seven Philadelphians will be asked to lead the team. Two of Coppin State’s three returning starters, sophomores Raheem Scott and Darron Bradley played together at Martin Luther King High in Philadelphia. As a freshman, Scott, a 6-foot-2 guard, started all but one game and averaged 35.4 minutes. Bradley, a 6-5 forward, began starting later in the season and averaged 22.2 minutes.
Freshman Kelvin Green, a 6-5 forward, missed the 2002-03 season because he received a medical redshirt with a broken left foot but leads the team in rebounds (seven per game) through five games this season. Sophomore Nicholas King, who sat out last season because he was a nonqualifier, has started all five games this season and is the team’s second leading scorer with 8.8 per game.
Sophomore guard Labeeb Muhammad initially came to Coppin State on an academic scholarship and worked his way into the playing rotation. Juniors Darryl Jones and Taji Mott are the two oldest Philadelphia natives based on eligibility. Though a guard, Jones led the team in blocks in 2002-03 with 17. Mott walked on before last season and appeared in six games.
A huge talent pool
“I think (Philadelphia high school players) play at very high levels, and some kids, depending on when you catch them, will say they are as good as anyone in the country,” Nagle said.
“I’m not necessarily saying that they play better than anyone else in the country, but I think those kids believe that they do.”