WYE MILLS –Turn any direction in the basketball offices and locker room at Chesapeake College on the Eastern Shore and you’re likely to find a PG County connection and, specifically, a link to Prince George’s Community College.
It begins with Chesapeake’s new head coach, Allen Mitchell, who played on PGCC’s early 1990s third- and seventh-place NJCAA tournament teams and also spent 11 years as an Owls assistant coach.
Mitchell lives in Capital Heights and spends the majority of his day at PGCC where he is an assistant warehouse supervisor.
Then there are assistant coaches Anthony Washington and William “BJ” Miller, who both played at PGCC. Two of this year’s sophomore guards – Joshua Johnson, a Suitland resident and graduate of Dr. Henry A. Wise, Jr. High School, and Kamron Hall from Seat Pleasant and a Central High grad – also have PG roots.
On most evenings of the basketball season, Mitchell travels across the Bay Bridge for practice and games. Previously the Skipjacks’ assistant coach, he’s been making the drive for the last five years.
The 2015-16 season is his first head-coaching position. With it comes challenges first-year coaches often face.
"It’s been a little tough to mesh everyone together this year,” said Mitchell, whose team is currently 3-10. “We lost several recruits during the coaching transition, but my guys have always competed, and I think we’re looking good for next year.”
Chesapeake College Athletic Director Frank Syzmanski is also optimistic about Mitchell’s future.
"Allen’s my guy,” Szymanski says enthusiastically. “As an assistant, he showed his ability to coach and mentor our players, several of whom have moved on to Division I schools. He earned the opportunity to lead our team.”
Mitchell was the Maryland JUCO Defensive Player of the Year (1990-1991) and second-team all-state (1993-94), so it’s no surprise that he emphasizes defense first with the Skipjacks.
"We’ll push the ball on offense, but I’ve been a defensive guy all my life,” he said. “I tell my players, if you can play defense, it will keep you on the court a lot longer.”
Mitchell is working his PG County and D.C. area-connections for recruits, but is also looking to add more players from Maryland and Delaware on the Eastern Shore. He’s also reaching out as far as Florida, where he’s tapped a coaching pipeline to recruit two of the top players on this year’s team.
He wants players who are willing to learn and take advantage of the opportunity Chesapeake presents.
"First you need to take care of business in the classroom,” he said. “If you’re just about basketball, I wish you well; but if you’re interested in an education, Chesapeake College is the right place for you.”
His efforts are supported by two key benefits Chesapeake offers its players.
The first is the school’s new $36-million Health Professions and Athletics Center, which was dedicated in August. From the training room to the court, the new facility is state-of-the-art.
The second – described by Mitchell as a “blessing” – is the school’s Learning Resources Center that provides tutoring and academic counseling for the Skipjacks’ players.
Coach Mitchell’s dedication to his team is also helping to build trust in the student athletes at Chesapeake.
"I’m going to push guys,” Mitchell said. “But the one thing I am is a family guy. If a player is going through something, I’m there for him. I still talk with a lot of players from my days at PGCC who call me for advice…even after fifteen years.”