Transcript: Orange and Blue Podcast with Men's Basketball Coach Greg Mitchell

Alan Babbitt [00:00:02] Welcome to the Hope College Athletics Orange and Blue Podcast. My name is Alan Babbitt, sports information director here at Hope College. I look forward each week during this semester and next semester where I am talking with Hope College coaches and getting an update on their teams, especially during these unprecedented times as they are navigating the pandemic and helping the college get through the first semester. We are working hard to finish strong here and have it on-campus learning all semester. With me today is head men's basketball coach Greg Mitchell. Good to catch up with you, Coach.

Greg Mitchell [00:00:39] Good to catch up with you as well. 

Alan Babbitt [00:00:41] Take me through the start with this year's team. Obviously much different. An earlier start date, different days, how you count practice, but you've been able to be with your guys and work with them and work with them collectively as well here since I think late September. Take me through this year's team. Who are some of the people you've seen emerge as leaders and what this team is going to look like when we are able to get on the court?

Greg Mitchell [00:01:14] It's been so different, obviously, for various reasons. But right now we have a great collection of guys, a good collection of returnees and a quality group of newcomers. With the uncertainty of the season and the J.V. typical season, we've elected to keep an expanded varsity roster, which is a little different for us. Right now, we've got 21 guys and our returning guys have been tremendous leaders throughout a really challenging time. I made a habit to meet with all of our freshmen for the first few weeks weekly, and the one thing that they said repeatedly was, was how welcome they felt and how embraced into our culture they felt. I thought, wow, what a great testament to our returning guys and our veterans, especially with so many limited things on campus with what they're able to do, from a social standpoint or whatever. Our older guys just did a tremendous job at welcoming in our younger guys and kind of showing them the way. Boy, what a need that was in regards to this first semester. We're really excited. We've got four captains, Preston Granger. Clayton Dykhouse, Ty George, and Danny Beckman. I think our guys did a tremendous job in recognizing probably our four hardest workers. I always feel that when you're captains, your leaders, are your hardest workers, you have a chance at finding your potential. I really feel that's the case with these guys. We've been going at it and we had a condition classing that they all had the chance to take. Three days a week, we were working outside Devos (Fieldhouse), had to be very creative. We used the tennis courts. We use the football stadium, we use the grass because we weren't permitted to be indoors for quite some time. Resistance bands became very popular because we had to invent ways to challenge our muscle groups. With all the adversity, I think our guys just handled it so well. Once the Devos doors were open, the Dow doors were open, we were able to start doing some things indoors and practice was started. We started on October 5th. The NCAA gave us a two-week addition to the number of weeks that we could use, so we took advantage of that and just kind of phase things in slowly. We're upon our fifth week and able to be more competitive, which has been outstanding. But it's just been so doggone different. That's the biggest thing. Handling adversity has been the operative title.

Alan Babbitt [00:03:49] What have you seen from your leaders coming back and in terms, is it just their attitude and how they're approaching these challenges that are rubbing off and making the newcomers fear both welcomed and engaged.

Greg Mitchell [00:04:06] Thank you for asking that, because, there are so many ways people can handle this situation. You can be just kind of down in the dumps because of the unknown. You feel like things are taken away from you and all those emotions. But our guys have chosen just to attack the day and be as great as they can possibly be. I think the Preston Grangers of the world and in the captains that I mentioned just figured, 'Hey, we're not going to let this situation dictate our work ethic. I've been really proud of them for that. I think they've been super intentional about making the most of each day. It's pretty easy to wallow in depression and wonder what was taken away from us. But they've gone the other direction. Each day they've shown up, whether it's a practice or a lift, I've seen nothing but energy. I think that's what we want them, that's the kind of person we need them to be. Then that works so well to show our younger guys this is what we do here. We've had the opportunity to lean into our seniors and I think they've really shown the way so far this semester.

Alan Babbitt [00:05:18] With a young team last year, a lot of growth. What did these guys learn that you think will help propel you into this upcoming season?

Greg Mitchell [00:05:26] I think they were forced to learn a little bit too much in all honesty, and it was a real adverse year. We had six or seven guys around our pre-season roster who ended up not being with us due to injuries and all kinds of things. You have a pretty good start to the season and then things just went south for us. I think you're forced to look in the mirror and really, first of all, appreciate your opportunity, but take nothing for granted.  I think to a man, there was a great sense of resolve and recommitment from coaching staff to players. Even though we had a really odd offseason where we were limited in what we could do, I just felt like our guys really learned from a tough year. There was a sense of recommitment to how we have to do things, individually and collectively. I just hope we have the opportunity to showcase that because I think we grew quite a bit. That's the thing with adversity. It's going to beat you down or it's going to resurrect you. I think it resurrected us and recommitted us to doing what we need to do, to be the type of Hope basketball team we're used to seeing.

Alan Babbitt [00:06:43] With the unusual summer, with being kind of locked down and limited in what you can do, there are not the usual pickup leagues that were a big part of the summer and then certainly a fun part of the summer for the guys. As you guys talked before we had to leave (last March), your conversations with players, what did they work on this summer to try to maximize what they could do or to be as ready as to prepare for the season?

Greg Mitchell [00:07:10] You're right. The things that were taken away were the two summer leagues we play in and then obviously open gyms, all of that was taken away. I think the one thing with a Division III athlete, though, is they don't have access to us coaches in the offseason. They're always forced to be somewhat independent and individually motivated. The big issue with our guys is somehow access to equipment and a hoop, and others it was very limited. They had to get pretty creative. We sent out workouts to start the year. I mentioned resistance-band training. We had to find different ways to just kind of challenge our muscle groups.  I thought, all in all, most of our guys took great advantage of it. What they did have more of was time because some of them weren't able to have their normal summer job. We had a couple of guys that their job became their bodies and just really, truly committing themselves to maximize their level of conditioning and others. It was a challenge just because of their circumstance.I think within that this whole pandemic has challenged us all to we got to either, you can make lemonade out of lemons or you can just let things rot, I feel like our guys really found a way to challenge themselves to make the most of it. We were in communication with them. We tried to pour into them and get them to realize that every day is a chance to maximize their opportunity. For the most part, I thought we did a really good job with that.

Alan Babbitt [00:08:44] I know it was also a challenging summer as well, in addition to pandemic were some other social justice issues that were going on and the conversations I know you've been having with your players collectively as a team, then individually as well.  I'm particularly thinking of Evan Thomas and Clayton Dykhouse and learning from them and being able to listen to what they were feeling. Talk about that and what you tried to do to listen to your guys in a time that was really, really difficult.

Greg Mitchell [00:09:15] I think the one keyword there is listen. We're all in different circumstances, different situations. We had some real conversations with all those guys. Clayton had an interesting episode as well that I learned so much from as a coach and just a human being that he went through. We followed up on that and just kind of worked through it together. Then when we came together this fall, we took a day off of conditioning and just talked and just let these guys kind of share their stories and some guys listened. I thought it brought us together. I thought it allowed us, one of the most important things in our world is having the ability to walk a mile in somebody else's shoes and learn what their perspective looks like.  I appreciate those guys sharing their stories and embracing some real challenging conversations because as we all know, this world has this year in our world has been so challenging and we're essentially polarized. I think as a team we have we have some unique personalities within a team. You have to find a way to meet in the middle. I just think those conversations really allowed us to do that. If anything, I think it galvanizes even more and made us more aware of what we can do as players and students and men in our society because I think if we can all look to walk in somebody else's shoes no matter what, unrelated to basketball, we're just going be better people, better husbands, better men. If we just learned to embrace each other and work for unity and give our guys a lot of credit for that. Jut be real honest and transparent because I think we grew up in that regard.

Alan Babbitt [00:10:58] With a team effort, it helps a head coach, who has a capacity of his own, you need some tremendous assistant coaches to help you along that way. Tell us about the men that are helping you out this year and helping this team out, that we hopefully will see on the sidelines soon.

Greg Mitchell [00:11:16] Coach Davelaar, I'll start there just with his experience. He's been tremendous and just being a little more mature in age, he's been very careful throughout the whole pandemic time.  We went through a streak. I think it was, I don't know, 33 or 34 straight days where we talked on the phone. We broke our streak, it was a little depressing, but we made a great point to stay in communication every single day. He's just been awesome. He's been able to come to practices and he gives us so much wisdom and knowledge and just a stabilizing force. So props to Coach Dav. Coach (Craig) Kopas is going to behind the scenes with recruiting staff. He's still doing his thing in that regard. Coach (Chad) Carlson, who was our J.V. coach last year, he's now head varsity assistant. I'm able to work with him every single day as he has a job on campus with (Events and Conferences Office). It's great to have a recent player who knows what it feels like on the other side of the bench, so to speak. Then bringing his knowledge and experience on the coaching side has just been tremendous. Then our newest addition is coach, Ken George. You know, I've had my eyes on Coach George for some time. Twenty-four year veteran high school coach, one of the best coaches in the state of Michigan. He's given us just a whole new sense of, like I said, experience and knowledge from a head coaching position. I think that makes a big difference. He's incredibly organized, just got done writing his second book. He's going be working on his third book. His brain operates on a totally different planet than mine.  I think if you're worth anything as a coach, you want to surround yourself with people who challenge you and that might be stronger at you in certain areas. I feel like I have that on my staff and Ken is just going to bring a great new component to us. Our players love him. I'm just excited to test the level of what I think is a vast improvement in all facets of Hope basketball. We just need a season to take place. We're going to forge ahead and ensure that that growth.

Alan Babbitt [00:13:32] Where did the love of basketball start for you? Obviously, it's been your life, you accomplished some great things here at Hope as a player and then went on to the high school level, great coaching career at Laingsburg, now back here at your alma mater, Hope. Where did that fire for basketball start with you?

Greg Mitchell [00:13:55]  It was family. I mean, I was the fifth of five children. My dad was a college basketball player at Tulane. All my siblings played. I was born in a gym. I was the ball boy when I was five years old at Okemos High School, never missed a game, home or away. It's just what we did. My sisters played. My brother played, as I mentioned, my dad played.  I think the love of the game started there.  I was blessed to play for just a legendary high school coach and Stan Stolz. Whether it was a summer camp or playing on his team, I gravitated to every word that came out of his mouth. I know it's because I loved the game and I had so much respect for him. Through the recruiting process and having the chance to play for another great coach was Coach (Glenn) Van Wieren, where I think the same thing. It's just those types of people fuel your passion for the game because they're passionate about it. Two completely different coaches, different coaching styles, but their love of the game and knowledge of the game, that was my voice. That's what I wanted to do. Those two guys to me just fed that that desire. It was natural for me to want to have a career in coaching and teaching. But that's a credit to the people that were around me. I was fortunate to play on really, really good teams. We won two state championships in high school and then obviously we were very successful at it Hope during Coach's tenure. When you find a job that you love, it's hard to call it work. I get to come to Hope College every day and work in DeVos Fieldhouse and coach some amazing players from a phenomenal family. Basketball's been pretty good to me.

Alan Babbitt [00:15:50] Your shooting, you still actually hold a 3-point record here at Hope for percentage. Was that just something from being in the gym and shooting that repetition that came for you? Or were you the best shooter among your family? Or are you still? Is there a sibling that maybe just a little hair better for you?

Greg Mitchell [00:16:12]  My dad was born in Indiana. we all know that Hoosiers love, love to play the game. My dad was a good shooter. So my brother, I mean,  yeah. I think I could probably outshoot them, I would hope. Regardless of that, I give them a lot of credit for just spending time in the driveway and being role models that I wanted to seek and just be like. Still love to shoot the basketball. That's one thing that hopefully doesn't leave me. Just don't guard me because I'm not sure I get by anybody. But if I'm left alone, I think I can make a couple of buckets here and there.

Alan Babbitt [00:16:45] What is it about shooting? What is it that still gives you a thrill?

Greg Mitchell [00:16:49] I love the immediate results. That's why I just love basketball. I think it's the one sport where you can pretty much play by yourself and emulate the sport. I mean, if you're a football player, a baseball player, it's kind of hard to replicate that sport. But shooting it's such an integral part of the game and an important part of the game. You get to rep it and practice it all the time. I just that's all I did. I mean, I shot the basketball and I studied it. I loved to coach it and analyze it. I think there's a right way to shoot. So the real specific fundamental things that I think lead your results. I paid attention to that. I just think it's one of those things that there's no way to perfect, but there's always a way to improve upon it. I just wanted to be as good as I could be.  I think with time and repetitions, that's the ultimate key, and I just I love shooting with players. I love shooting with younger kids and tweaking shots and trying to help them get to the point where it just increases their confidence because that's ultimately the key. You have your form. You believe in your form. You rep it, but you believe it's going in every time you shoot it and that's sort of what we want to impart on our guys. I'm coaching alongside Coach George and Coach Carlson, who are two great shooters as well. We kind of jokingly say that we would challenge any other staff right now and shoot the basketball. It just kind of a fun thing to do. As you well know, Coach Carlson is the all-time leader in 3s made, so it's pretty cool to have shooting competitions among our staff as well.

Alan Babbitt [00:18:22] Listening to you, family is a huge part of who you are and what you enjoy about life. This year you became a grandpa for the first time, grandson Callahan, born to Nick and Jalynn. What's that been like? Obviously, they are still living in West Michigan so I'm sure an opportunity to see him. Seeing that face looking back at you, how has that changed you?

Greg Mitchell [00:18:49] I wish I could not sound like the stereotypical grandfather. First of all, I can't believe I'm a grandfather, just using that term. What I mean by that is your grandchild is the greatest grandchild in the world. I think ours is, right?. I mean, that it's just got how it operates. It's the greatest blessing ever and I've fallen right into that stereotype of the grandparent that thinks his grandchild is the best. We love spending time with him. It's been an incredible blessing during the COVI shut down because that was the one thing, we were always careful when we got together, but it was the one bright spot. We're very limited in what we could do, but we can spend time with him. It was a tremendous blessing for Jaelyn and Nick too after his birth, they were able to be with him and raise him for those really important months and didn't have to go back to work right away. They've just been tremendous parents. Callahan is a ray of sunshine, a very, very happy baby. Just seeing him develop and change is something we really appreciate and love spending time with him. it's going to be fun to watch him grow.

Alan Babbitt [00:19:58] He got a shot yet? Is he working on now? You know, I mean, obviously very good athletes for parents.

Greg Mitchell [00:20:08] Unfortunately, he plays with that oblong football and a baseball. He's just got to come over and visit Grandpa Mitch so I can put that basketball in his hands a little bit more often. No shot just yet. But he's definitely got some hoop gear already delivered, some friendly Christmas presents that will be delivered as well with a basketball on them. I have a feeling he'll be a pretty good athlete with Jaylen's and Nick's bloodlines, that's for sure.

Alan Babbitt [00:20:34] That's just a lot of fun, and I say that's the key, finding those bright spots amid these challenging times, that makes all the difference. Happy for Nick and Jaylen. I look forward to seeing Callahan at the DeVos Fieldhouse as soon as we are able. Thanks for spending a few minutes. I know it's a busy time for you.  Get back to work, not work, but, you know, things to do. Thanks for joining us Greg on the Orange and Blue podcast. We'll hopefully be talking about some basketball games very soon.

Greg Mitchell [00:21:08] Well, that's the plan. Thank you very much. Appreciate all you do for Hope Athletics. Go Hope!

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