Former Timberwolves coach Sam Mitchell said Friday that he's interested in the Gophers basketball coaching job, calling the program a "hidden gem" in the Big Ten.
Mitchell, who was the Wolves interim coach in 2015-16, believes he could take advantage of the strong high school talent in Minnesota and recruit nationally to help the program take the next step.
"I'm not interested in the University of Minnesota just to have a job," Mitchell, who works for NBATV, told the Star Tribune. "I want to compete for Big Ten championships and national championships."
Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle, who fired Richard Pitino on Monday after eight seasons, said he would consider a "diverse candidate pool" for the next Gophers coach.
Mitchell has been speculated among the potential candidates to replace Pitino. Other possible candidates of color include Cleveland State's Dennis Gates and Dayton's Anthony Grant.
When the Wolves started their first NBA franchise in 1989, Mitchell was among their first players. The Georgia native eventually returned in 1995 to play for coach Flip Saunders and mentor Kevin Garnett, the organization's biggest star.
"When I was playing with the Timberwolves, every kid wanted to play at the University of Minnesota," Mitchell said. "That was their dream. I think it's an unbelievable recruiting base. You can lock down the state of Minnesota if you let these kids know we're going to build a national power. I think it's a hidden gem of a job. I think if given the opportunity, I could take that program to another level."
Mitchell's coaching experience is primarily at the NBA level, including when he was named NBA coach of the year with the Toronto Raptors in 2007. His only college stint was as an assistant under Penny Hardaway at Memphis in 2018-19, helping him recruit the nation's No. 1 rated recruiting class.
"I think my advantage is the ability to identify talent that can play at the pro level," Mitchell said. "You have to look at a kid and project what can he be two or three years from now. I was a three-star recruit that turned into a five-star player over the course of four years."
Juwan Howard, a former NBA player and assistant, became the only Black men's college basketball coach in the Big Ten when he was hired by his alma mater two years ago. Howard won the Big Ten regular season outright title and was named conference coach of the year for the Wolverines, who are a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Penn State hired the second Black coach in the Big Ten with Purdue assistant Micah Shrewsberry earlier this month.
Coyle said he's looking at a "broad list" of candidates.
"I think we need to find somebody who has competitive success and can help us build this program," he said. " … Obviously, we feel like we have great in-state talent with the high school basketball, the AAU basketball that we have here in the state of Minnesota. And we're going to try to find the best fit for our program."