Basketball: Mitchell returns to college ranks

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 30, 2022

By Mike London

WINSTON-SALEM — Sandra Mitchell was a cheerleader for Winston-Salem State University back in the day, and now she can cheer hard for the Rams again.

Sandra’s husband, Andrew, one of the most successful basketball coaches in Rowan County history, is headed back to the college ranks as an assistant for Winston-Salem State’s women’s team.

Mitchell was a vital part of the Salisbury girls coaching staff that brought home a state title last March.

He loved working with head coach Lakai Brice and he loved drilling the Hornets, especially on defense, but the opportunity with Winston-Salem State was too good to pass up.

“Helping the Salisbury girls the last three years was some of the most enjoyable times I’ve ever had in coaching,” Mitchell said. “Coach Brice just let me work, and she and I were always on the same page. I think maybe she loves the game even more than I do and watches even more film than I do, and I never thought I’d be able to say that about any coach.”

Salisbury always took care of Mitchell with things like food and gas, but he was basically a volunteer. When he was offered a college position this summer with a nice salary and full benefits, it wasn’t a hard decision to make the move.

It came about when Mitchell ran into WSSU head coach L’Tona Lamonte at a summer team camp at North Meck.

They go way back in the CIAA to a time when Mitchell was coaching Livingstone College and Lamonte was playing for Winston-Salem State.

“She asked me if I’d be interested in coaching at WSSU, we sat down and talked, and it was all a whirl after that,” Mitchell said.

“I am extremely excited to have someone with Coach Mitchell’s statue here at Winston-Salem State University,” Lamonte said in a WSSU press release. “The one thing we have been missing is having someone with CIAA head coaching experience. He has over 20 years of CIAA experience and a championship mindset that is going to take us a long way.”

Mitchell’s education was at North Rowan High (Class of 1984) and Catawba College (Class of 1988). His playing days were in the 1980s. He was North Rowan’s leading scorer as a senior.

He served as an assistant men’s coach on a lot of HBCU benches —  Livingstone, Fort Valley State University and Johnson C. Smith University — and he was the top women’s assistant coach at Kentucky State University.

He found a long-term home in Rowan County at New Trent Gym as the head coach of the Livingstone Blue Bears from 1994-2007. He coached some of the best teams in school history and led the program to its first CIAA championship in 2000.

Mitchell left the Blue Bears to take charge of Salisbury’s girls program and guided two powerful teams to state titles. The Hornets were 29-3 in his first year and 29-0 in his second. That’s 58-3.

Next came seven seasons as North Rowan’s head boys coach. North was 153-40 under his leadership. That included a 27-5 state champion in 2010-11 and a 21-6 state runner-up squad in 2013-14.

Mitchell’s forte is defense.

“Defense is my strength and I hope I can help revamp Winston-Salem State’s defense,” Mitchell said. “But I’m ready to assist L’Tona in any way that I can. It’s her program.”

WSSU has a four-person coaching staff. Mitchell can’t wait to get started.

“The goal is to win championships,” Mitchell said. “Even national championships can be won in the CIAA if everyone is on the same page. It’s been done and it can be done at Winston-Salem State.”

Mitchell has four children and three grandchildren.

For now, he spends quiet nights watching the grandchildren sleep, but things will heat up in the CIAA in November.

“I lost my dad (Andrew Sr.) back in July,” Mitchell said. “He’d be the happiest one about all this. He always wanted to see me get back into college coaching.”