Sam Mitchell believes he returned to Toronto Friday night the same man who left two-plus years ago with a few exceptions.
“I’m the same person, hopefully a little smarter,” Mitchell, now an assistant coach on Avery Johnson’s staff in New Jersey said. “As time goes by, hopefully we get a little smarter. I’ve calmed down a lot. You kind of sit back and you learn. I listen a whole lot more.”
His press certainly got a whole lot better, although Mitchell claimed he had only heard about Steve Buffery’s humorous look-back at Mitchell’s time in Toronto in Friday’s Toronto Sun. The bulk of the article dealt with the often outlandish things Mitchell would say, most of them in his early days.
Sadly those days sound like they’re over.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a favourite line,” Mitchell said. “I wish there were some things I could take back. It’s such a blur. (People) were reminding me of some of the things I have said. I mean I’m not going to pick up a (news)paper and read what my good friend wrote about me because I don’t know if it was nice or if it’s on the edge. I guess I was very fortunate. I had people around me who allowed me to grow as a coach. I was young when I first got my chance.”
Now back in the game after a year and a half at home in Atlanta, Mitchell says the time off have provided him the opportunity to reflect on what is important in life.
“You relax a little bit and you realize the last 41/2 years had been a blur,” Mitchell said. “I can think back to conversations I thought I was having with people but my mind was on basketball. It was constant. You realize what a grind it is when you’re the head coach and you’re trying to get to a certain point. It’s a grind and you almost become (unaware) of everything else that is going on in the world.”
Mitchell swears that will never happen again, no matter what his future holds.
“When you step away from it for a while you kind of get a different perspective,” he said. “You have to have a balance in your life and I think at the time when I was (head coach in Toronto) I didn’t have any balance. I think if I ever get an opportunity again, I’ll have more of a balance in who I am as a person in my life. You just get so caught up in the moment and the games because it is so many games in such a short period of time, you kind of forget who you are.”
Mitchell knows exactly who is he now and is much more measured when he speaks, something he learned he had to be after one too many incidents of speaking before thinking.
“I thought it was kind of amusing at the time,” Mitchell said of the many occasions he would speak first and think about the impact those words might have later. “But then when Mr. Tanenbaum would call and he and Richard Peddie would call me into the office, and they’d kind of get on me about it, I didn’t think it was so funny then.”
As if to prove his point, Mitchell spoke for nearly 10 minutes with a mix of Toronto and New Jersey media before last night’s game and only once did the old Sam, the Sam who liked to “poke the bear” creep into the conversation.
Asked about his brief stint working in the media as opposed to answering to them, Mitchell began by saying
“It was fun. It was different ... You have to actually know what you’re talking about when you’re throwing out numbers. It gave me a better appreciation for how little you guys actually work.”
Once the laughter died down, Mitchell added, “I had to get one in.”
Now that’s the Sam we remember.