There is no greater proof of the retired college and high school coach’s teaching skills than the 1993-94 men’s basketball team at Virginia-Wise.
The squad set several benchmarks for the school, then known as Clinch Valley College.
An off-the-court accomplishment, however, is what Mitchell said gives him his greatest pride in the team. Of the 16 players on that rosters, six went on to become high school coaches.
“I probably most identify with those players who go into coaching and I hope they use their relationship with those CVC days as a basis for their careers,” Mitchell said.
The ’93-94 version of the Cavaliers finished with 21 wins, a school record at the time for a program that had seen just three winning seasons in 22 years.
The Cavs were 14-6 in the Tennessee Virginia Athletic Conference finishing fourth.
Former Powell Valley star Robert Spears, one of seven seniors on the squad and an NCAA Division I transfer from East Tennessee State, broke the school record for most rebounds in a single season with 360. His mark stood until 2014.
The team scored over 100 points seven times, including a school-record 121 in a win over Montreat. The Cavs averaged 92.1 points per game, ninth highest in the nation among NAIA teams.
The Cavs also beat Montreat in the TVAC tournament for the program’s first postseason win.
STAYING IN THE GAME
In addition to the six eventual high school coaches on that ’93-94 team, during his career Mitchell mentored two others who went on to become coaches.
Waylon Hart, the former varsity coach and now junior varsity coach at Honaker, played on Mitchell’s 1996 team. Quinn Reynolds, a longtime assistant coach and junior varsity coach at Wise Central, played under Mitchell at Pound High School.
There was no season like the 1993-’94 one, however, for producing future coaches. The team’s success left a lasting impression on its members.
The roster was full of players who loved to play the game, many so much so they stayed with it after graduation.
Among the team members who became coaches were seniors Jon Caywood, who coached at Patrick Henry, and James Carter, who coached at Buffalo Gap.
Four of the six remain active in the high school coaching ranks.
Donnie Jordan, a senior captain for the Cavs, went on to coach at Wise County Christian School and later became an assistant coach at UVA Wise before taking his current role as an assistant to Zack Moore at Union.
“That was a good group,” Jordan said of his college team. “I don’t ever remember all of us saying, ‘We’re going into coaching.’ ”
Jordan, who played for Bill Mitchell at Tazewell in high school and then for Preston Mitchell at Wise, said being surrounded by good coaches and, more importantly, good people influenced his career pursuit.
“Some of the drills we do today at Union came from the same drills that Coach (Preston) Mitchell ran when I was playing for him,” Jordan noted.
Jordan said both his high school and college coaches were positive role models on and off the court.
“I’ve sat on the bench with some pretty good guys through the years,” he added.
Robert “Bull” Creech, a junior on the 1993-94 Cavs squad, went into coaching at his alma mater, Wolfe County, Kentucky, after graduation.
This past season, Mitchell crossed the state line to watch Creech’s team advance all the way to the Region 14 championship game before losing to Knott County Central in overtime.
Brian Powers, a Twin Springs graduate who was a freshman with the 1993-94 Cavs, is the coach of Twin Springs girls team.
Powers led the Lady Titans to an appearance in the Region 1D semifinals this past season.
Scotty Vermillion, a Gate City graduate and also a freshman on Mitchell’s 1993-94 squad, hadn’t planned to make coaching a career.
He was set to go into the insurance business before a last-minute decision to apply for a coaching vacancy at Twin Springs sent his career path in another direction.
Vermillion coached at Twin Springs for five years before taking over at Gate City, where he’s been for the past 17 seasons.
Even when not planning on coaching as a career, Vermillion said a strong connection to the team and “how much all of the guys loved it” kept him tied to basketball.
“I truly loved being a part of that program and I always loved the game,” he said.
Mitchell considers Vermillion — who has won 450 games, including a VHSL championship and has four state runner-up finishes, eight state final four trips, six regional championships, 17 district titles and 16 district tournament titles — to be arguably the best boys basketball coach in Southwest Virginia history.
Mitchell should know.
The UVA Wise Hall of Famer, who had over 100 coaching wins at the school and close to 200 more on the high school level, guided plenty of future of coaches in his two decades and still keeps in touch with them.
“What I miss about coaching is player relationships,” Mitchell said. “So I don’t miss that because I still have those relationships.”