"It's hard to stay consistent as a player, when the coach isn't consistent."
"There are people three rows behind the bench who are coaching the team."
As part of my initial reaction to Mitchell's words, I wrote:
For what reason did he receive 14 minutes TOTAL in the first TWO conference games? Seriously, 3 minutes against SYR? A team he dominated in two games last year? It still doesn't make sense and it never will. Stix was shafted this season. Don't forget, last year he played his ass off for Gonzalez as an undersized four and was rewarded this season by catching the short end of the stick when it came to divvying up the minutes. You don't like to see a player call out his coach, or vice versa, but in this situation, I can't blame the man.
You can read my initial reaction in it's entirety here.
Yesterday, Seton Hall released a press release stating that Mitchell was removed from the basketball program. Hours later, Bobby Gonzalez held a conference call in which he discussed the NIT and the dismissal of Stix. Check Jerry Carino's Hoops Haven for the quotes, including:
"This was my decision, it wasn't the administration or university. It wasn't just based on this latest thing. There was a history there. I felt I was fair numerous times. I met with him at Christmas time and made it clear he was going to graduate in May (and move on). We felt it was best for the future that we had Eugene and John graduating and also Robert. We didn't make an announcement about that. We were going to wait until the season ended."
Due to his quality performances over the stretch of the Pirates non-conference schedule, I started referring to Robert, not as Stix, but as Mr. Consistency. For that's exactly what he was, a player that would consistently contribute. He posted 12.1PTS/6.1REB during the team's OOC schedule, down a bit from his totals the previous year. Still, they're the numbers of a player more than capable of contributing at a high level in the BIG EAST. Keep in mind, the decline in his averages can be directly attributed to the fact that his minutes began to be cut towards the end of OOC play to make way for the transfers. Throughout the season, I endlessly discussed that I felt Stix was unfairly demoted during BIG EAST play to make way for a "trial-and-error" technique that consisted of, you guessed it, inconsistent substitution patterns. Out of 18 conference games this season, Mitchell saw more than 20 minutes only 6 times, while his minutes were stripped and divvied up amongst the newcomers, most notably, Keon Lawrence.
Let me address one thing that is floating out there in reference to Robert Mitchell's demotion. There's a contingent of fans who believe the demotion was justified because they believe Jeff Robinson is a better player than Stix. That notion is irrelevant and couldn't be more off base. For starters, Mitchell is not a PF, he manned the position last year when the front-court was shorthanded and he did a pretty remarkable job at doing so. Mitchell should be playing his natural position at the 3, with JRob at the 4, as Harvey/JT, Hazell, Stix, JRob and Pope were the best starting five for this team, it's a shame we saw very little of it. Instead, Gonzalez continually played musical chairs with the lineup and insisted on starting 2 PGs in a rotation that saw Hazell slide into an unconventional 3 as JRob and Pope manned the interior. If we're going to make comparisons between players in regards to their perceived quality and a minutes played output, look no farther than Keon Lawrence.
I'm sure Mitchell was unhappy with playing time this season, however when called upon, he still gave everything he had to his team. You would never see him take the floor and give his team less than 110%. He has had his struggles with shot-selection in recent games, but then again, who hasn't? Like Mitchell stated, how can his game remain consistent when he can't get consistent playing time? We saw him produce at a consistent level when he received the minutes last season: 14.7PTS/8.0REB while logging 36mpg. In fact, many fans even viewed him as the team's MVP. You couldn't question his heart as an undersized kid, sticks for legs, willing to play the four for Bobby Gonzalez and a Seton Hall frontcourt that on paper couldn't be competitive with the other bigs in the conference. With 7 conference wins, their competitiveness can be left for debate. With that said, they would have been lucky to win 4 conference games had his scholarship been revoked last year.
Furthermore, If it was understood that Mitchell would leave the team following his graduation in May, why wasn't Stix honored on senior night along with Harvey and Garcia? If both parties mutually agreed that this would be his last year in uniform, I find it hard to believe that both Gonzalez and the school would fail to recognize him in the pre-game ceremony. Since he was not included, it leads me to believe that the decision wasn't final. Is it possible that there may have been a miscommunication during the, "Christmas time" meeting where Stix and Gonzo couldn't come to an agreement regarding their differences? If accurate, refusing to recognize the player on senior night because the staff didn't want to make an announcement is a bad look for the University and disrespectful to Mitchell.
During the conference call, Gonzalez twice referred to, "a history" in regards to the decision that was made in dismissing Mitchell. Last season, Stix was suspended for two games for violating, "team rules" in 2007-2008, when he sat out after transferring from Duquesne. During that season, he traveled with a friend to Georgetown, however his friend was unable to drive him home and he traveled on a team bus back to South Orange, a violation of NCAA rules. The Seton Hall coaches allowed him on the bus, but weren't "necessarily aware" that he was on it. The only, "history," the public is aware of pertains to the coaching staff, including Gonzo, who allowed Mitchell to board the bus.
Does Gonzalez need to make public the "history" in discussion? No, hopefully the details will come out, from Gonzo, from Stix, preferably both. There's a time and place to keep things in house, but when you immediately remove a kid from from finishing his last year of eligibility with the team, it warrants a little more justification than, "there was a history there." Does Gonzo owe it the fans or anyone else for that matter to explain his reasoning? Absolutely not. However, Gonzalez made the decision to dismiss Mitchell just four days after Stix spoke to the media about being upset with Bobby's coaching. The dismissal wasn't a direct retaliation to Mitchell's comments? What is the fanbase left to believe? On Sunday, we lost a warrior on the court and to our program, but for what? A few out-of-line comments spoken in frustration?
This is a kid, a college student, speaking out of frustration after what was probably the most heart-wrenching loss of the season that ultimately sealed Seton Hall's NCAA tournament fate. Mistakes happen. Should Mitchell have been punished? Yes, suspend him for a game of the NIT Tournament, hell, make it two again, but this is Mitchell's livelihood, he earned a scholarship to play basketball at Seton Hall. Certainly, that is a privilege that can and in certain cases should be revoked, but was it revoked appropriately in Robert Mitchell's situation? In my opinion, I feel Gonzalez made a mistake. A mistake that has maddened not only myself, but at the very least, a sizable portion of the fanbase. Bobby acknowledged that he will take the blame for whatever the fans want to say, but will he take the blame, or pass it off, citing, "a history?"
I'd like to send sincere best wishes to Robert, "Stix" Mitchell. He'll be remembered for his contributions as a Pirate. Unfortunately, due to recent events, he may not look back on his time in South Orange favorably. He'll be missed considerably next season. Instead of returning to the team for his senior year, bringing an intangible of senior leadership, his scholarship will be handed over to an incoming recruit. A mistake was made by Robert Mitchell, but a much larger mistake followed suit.