(This article was posted on ESPN.com on April 24, 2007)
TORONTO -- Former Mercer basketball great Sam Mitchell was honored as the NBA coach of the year Tuesday after leading the Toronto Raptors to a franchise-record-tying 47 victories and their first Atlantic Division title.
Mitchell won the Red Auerbach Trophy in a decisive vote over Utah's Jerry Sloan. Mitchell picked up 49 first-place votes for a total of 394 points in balloting by 128 basketball writers and broadcasters. Sloan had 301 points, followed by Dallas' Avery Johnson with 268. Johnson won the award last year.
Mitchell is the sixth coach in the Raptors' history. He guided the Raptors to an NBA-best 20-game improvement (27-55) over the 2005-06 season. The Raptors trail New Jersey 1-0 in a first-round playoff series; Game 2 is tonight in Toronto.
During a 13-year playing career that ended in 2002, Mitchell was held in high regard around the league as a student of the game. Following two seasons as an assistant, he was hired as the Raptors' coach on June 29, 2004.
"He's done a great job with the ball club," forward Morris Peterson said Monday. "He's really grown a lot over his first couple of years coaching. If anybody in the NBA deserves it, it's him. He's proved a lot of people wrong."
Guard T.J. Ford said Mitchell puts his faith in the players. "He's going to give us the structure offensively and defensively, but it's up to us to go out there execute," he said. "He puts it in our hands and lets us control it. He's been great in that aspect."
Mitchell is finishing the final season of his contract, but there has been ongoing discussion of an extension.
"I think he does [deserve a new contract]," Raptors All-Star forward Chris Bosh said earlier this month. "That was the question. Can he win? And he's shown he can."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report
(Mitchell, who played at Mercer from 1981-85, was elected in the Mercer Athletic Hall of Fame in 1995 after an illustrious career where he became Mercer's all-time leading scorer with 1,986 points. He was the Conference Player of the Year and an honorable mention All-American.)