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Published: Sunday, 1/1/2006

Todd Mitchell: A worldly view of basketball

In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade's sports section. Blade sports writer Donald Emmons recently talked with St. Francis de Sales graduate Todd Mitchell about life and basketball.

Todd Mitchell knows his place in history when it comes to high school basketball in Toledo.

He and his close friend, Jim Jackson, led their respective high school teams to state championships. Mitchell, a 1984 graduate, reminds Jackson that it was St. Francis - not Macomber - that brought the first boys state basketball championship trophy back to Toledo.

Mitchell, in his junior year, stood front and center for coach Val Glinka as the Knights marched to the 1983 Class AAA state crown.

Mitchell went on to a stellar college career at Purdue in which he helped lead the Boilermakers to back-to-back Big Ten championships (1987 and 1988). He averaged 13.7 points while shooting 54.1 percent over four years at Purdue. He was drafted by Denver in the second round (43rd pick overall) of the 1988 NBA draft. The Nuggets cut him before the season began, but Mitchell had stints playing in Miami, San Antonio and Orlando.

But most of his professional career was spent overseas. He was based in Italy for three years, Greece for three years, and France and Israel for a year each before he was forced to retire after suffering a life-threatening blood clot.

Mitchell has returned to Toledo and works as a pharmaceutical sales representative. He also spends time in the summer with Jackson and Dennis Hopson running their basketball camp held at the University of Toledo.

"I THOUGHT WE had a good team [at St. Francis]. As we started to gel early on we played Bowsher and lost by one point, which ended up being our only loss of the year against Dennis [Hopson] on some kind of freakish play. I think that really got us focused and we finished 27-1. We ended up being No. 5 in the nation in the USA Today Top 25.

"I think that team was a model of what kind of pieces you need in order to win championships. When I see the San Antonio Spurs win a championship, the same pieces that they have are the same pieces that we had when we won, but obviously on a smaller scale.

"You have guys who really want to do the dirty work. Leaders on the court like Shawn Reid. He was a great leader and defender. Then we had a guy, Roy Ware, who could just flat-out shoot the ball. Then, myself, an interior player who could play defense and block shots and score. Then we had guys who could fill in and do their jobs."

"I NARROWED [my college choices] to five schools - Purdue, UCLA, Kentucky, Syracuse and North Carolina. I liked Ohio State, but Dennis [Hopson] had went to Ohio State the year before and we played the same position. I didn't want to fight my friend for playing time. He wanted me to come there and called me every day, but like I said, I didn't want to fight him for the same minutes.

"The decision that ended up bringing me to Purdue was they had won the Big Ten championship the year before when nobody thought they could win with probably second-tier players. I also thought it was a great place to get a great education and coach [Gene Keady] graduated his players, and my parents thought that was big.

"I originally had committed to UCLA verbally, but as I mulled it over a little more it was just too far. At that time, cable wasn't what it is now. My parents maybe would have only been able to see me play once or twice a year.

"To be able to go to Purdue, it was far enough away for me to be independent but my parents could still drive to home games, as well as they could catch the Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State games when we were on the road."

"MY FIRST START ever [at Purdue] was when I was a freshman and it was in Bloomington [Ind., at Indiana University]. Coach put me in the starting lineup that morning in the shoot-around and I was as nervous as could be. It turned out to be the [Bob Knight] chair-throwing game. It's funny because I get to re-experience the short shorts every year because they replay the chair game all the time."

"PLAYING FOR KEADY, no question, was tough. He reminded me a lot of my father, and I think that's why my father liked him when he came to the house to visit.

"I think that experience really taught me a lot about the fundamentals of the game because coach was big into that and what it takes to win championships and how to prepare. A lot of times we beat teams just because we were more prepared.

"Over those years, for example, like Michigan, we beat them on a consistent basis although they had superior talent. In fact, in those days they had [NBA-bound players] Gary Grant, Rumeal Robinson, Roy Tarpley, Terry Mills and Loy Vaught."

"THAT [NBA DRAFT] was a real nervous time for me and I ended up going to Denver. That was the first time in my life that in basketball somebody told me I wasn't good enough and I ended up getting cut. That brought a whole new perspective to basketball - a different side of the game.

"But it made me continue to work and I got an opportunity to play with the Heat after that. To have an opportunity to be considered one of the best athletes in the world - whether you're there for a year or 10 years - is a great opportunity to have made it to that level. I can always say I had an opportunity to do that.

"Would I have liked to have played 10 years, 11 years? Sure. But that wasn't meant to be.

"The one thing that I can say is I played against the best that I think ever played. Larry Bird was still playing. Magic Johnson was still playing. Michael Jordan was at his peak. I had a chance to play against those guys."

"I THOUGHT I'D GO [overseas] for a year and play and get my stock up. One year turned into eight years. I've had a chance to see probably everyplace you could see in Europe. I got a chance to see how other people live. The changes in Warsaw from when I went there in '91 and when I went back there in '98 are like night and day.

"They were all great places, but as we see what Tel Aviv and Israel look like now it was so different back then. It was a great place to live [in the early 1990s] and it was probably the most Americanized city that I played in. The city itself was basically like New York, but in the Mediterranean. If you could imagine New York located in Miami."

"WE, AS AMERICANS, are really perceived as being overbearing in a lot of ways by people in other countries. A lot of times we're perceived as, 'It's our way or the highway.' In my opinion, the Iraq war is just another example of 'our way or the highway.'

"We think we know what's best for them, but who knows what the best for them is? Democracy is great for us. It's worked well, but who are we to say that it's going to work the same way for somebody else?"

"I WAS IN FRANCE and had a pulmonary embolism. I was warming up before a game and just passed out. I could've died. I was in a Paris hospital for 13 days to dissolve the clot with blood thinners.

"When I came back to the states the doctors said I would be on blood thinners after that and it would probably be best that I retire. That's when it kind of hit me that there's going to be another phase in my life and I would have to switch gears."

Contact Donald Emmons at: demmons@theblade.com or 419-724-6302.

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