TOLEDO – Todd Mitchell may have gone against the grain a few times in his life, but the choices the former Purdue and professional basketball player made seemed to work out just fine in the long run.
Mitchell, 53, grew up in Toledo as the youngest of Charles and Gladys Mitchell's four children.
His late father was a pioneer of sorts, one of Toledo's first African-American commercial building contractors, and Todd got a taste of hard work on the job for Charles as a teenager.
"I did a lot of work with him as a kid, and I think that's how I got a pretty good work ethic," Todd said. "I was a laborer and worked on a lot of jobs for him.
"I carried a lot of bricks, I made mortar, I built scaffold, I learned how to lay brick, pour concrete, and all of those things."
Raised in Toledo, at his mother's insistence and with education the goal, he attended Ladyfield Elementary near Notre Dame Academy.
Ladyfield had no athletic programs, so Todd got his sports experience playing in his neighborhood at the nearby Boys and Girls Club and in the programs provided by the Jewish Community Center. His entry in those programs came as the result of Gladys' friendship with a neighbor who drove a bus that transported members to the JCC, first in Toledo and later to new facilities in Sylvania.
"Coaches would draft teams," Mitchell said of his treasured JCC experience. "Every year I would always end up on the worst team. I was the tallest kid, and I was OK.
"But I'd be on a good team to start, and then if a team was doing poorly, they switched me and put me on the poorest team to even it up. At the end of the year, I'd always get this little trophy, and I'd be so upset."
When Todd opted to attend St. Francis, it was much to the dismay of his father, who had been a standout football lineman and track athlete at Scott High School in the late 1940s. The choice also didn't sit well with many his neighborhood friends.
"The majority of my friends went to either Scott or Macomber or Libbey," Mitchell said. "All the people that I had played with on a regular basis, in the neighborhood, and at the Boys and Girls Club every single day -- I got heat from them then, and I get heat from them now."
Having played on the freshman football team for the Knights in the fall of 1980, Todd had no plans of playing basketball at St. Francis. That was until Knights head coach Val Glinka suggested otherwise.
"He saw me in the classroom, and he said, 'Why aren't you at tryouts for the basketball team?' " Mitchell recalled. "I said I wasn't going to try out. He said, 'You need to come down and try out.' So, I did.
"My parents sent me to a camp in Indiana and went to visit my sister Charlene in Boston. She sent me to the M.L. Carr Basketball Camp, the player from the Celtics. I spent the whole summer playing and getting better. When I came back as a sophomore I had also grown from 6-3 to 6-6. That was a big change as well."
Mitchell stopped playing football after his sophomore year, again disappointing his father. He played varsity basketball for Glinka on a slightly above-average Knights team in 1981-82.
The following season, he was part of a history-making St. Francis team that won Ohio's Class AAA state title, Toledo's first boys basketball champion in the then-61-year history of the Ohio High School Athletic Association state tournament.
"Val was one of the most influential men in my life in creating my personality as both a player and a person," Mitchell said. "I had pretty good parents, but as a 14, 15, 16-year-old kid in high school, your teachers and your coaches have a big influence. He was extremely important in my development."
In the 1983 state semifinals, St. Francis beat a Middletown team that included a guard named Cris Carter, the future Ohio State and NFL Hall of Fame football receiver, edging the Middies, 73-70, in a dramatic back-and-forth battle at Ohio State University's St. John Arena.
In the finals, with the 6-foot-7 Mitchell outplaying 6-foot-11 center Grady Mateen of Akron outscoring him 17-11, the Knights used a 19-12 fourth quarter to secure a 58-49 victory in the March 26 championship game.
As a senior in 1983-84, Mitchell, a first team All-Ohioan, and the Knights opened the season 19-0 to extend their winning streak to 40 straight games. That run ended in a humbling 71-53 loss to Scott in a City League championship game played before a then-Ohio high school regular-season record crowd of 9,058 at Centennial Hall (now Savage Arena).
Two weeks later, Mitchell's prep career ended on another loss to the Bulldogs in the AAA district final, this time with St. Francis squandering a nine-point lead in the final two minutes. Mitchell called his final prep game "a bitter pill to swallow."
Originally having committed before his senior prep season to UCLA, Mitchell withdrew on that intention after the Bruins made a head coaching change from Larry Farmer to Walt Hazzard. He opted for his second choice, Purdue, and coach Gene Keady.
Earning a starting spot early in his freshman season, Mitchell was part of Boilermaker teams that would go 96-28 during his career (1984-88), a run capped by back-to-back Big Ten titles in 1987 (25-5 overall, 15-3 Big Ten) and 1988 (29-4, 16-2).
Mitchell, who had 1,699 points and 740 rebounds in his Purdue career, was named first team All-Big Ten his senior year.
Purdue was the No. 1 overall seed entering the 1988 NCAA tournament but was upset by Kansas State in a regional semifinal at the Pontiac (Mich.) Silverdome, which would be Mitchell's final college game.
Selected by the Denver Nuggets in the second round of the 1988 NBA draft, Mitchell was released by the team the day before the opening of the 1988-89 NBA season. He signed with the expansion Miami Heat, but played in only 24 games (two with San Antonio Spurs), and his NBA career never really took off.
Between 1988 and 1999, Mitchell would spend parts of 12 professional seasons playing for three teams in the Continental Basketball Association and for 11 different pro teams in the European League. He played for teams in Greece, France, Italy, Spain, Israel, and Switzerland and was averaging 27.5 points for a Swiss team in 1999 when his basketball career came to an unexpected halt.
"The man upstairs decided it for me," Mitchell said. "We were playing a Euro League game in Paris. I had been feeling under the weather for the last two weeks. They gave me antibiotics because they thought I had some kind of flu or something. I'm warming up, and I pass out on the court.
"The physician comes out with smelling salts, wakes me up, and they take my pulse. I have a rapid heartbeat, and they think I'm having some sort of heart attack. They take me to the hospital and do an imaging of my heart and lungs, and they find out I had these two huge blood clots in my lungs.
Mitchell returned to Toledo, established an annual youth basketball camp with fellow Toledo basketball star (Ohio State and NBA) Dennis Hopson, with Macomber and OSU star Jim Jackson joining in when his NBA career began.
For the past 16 years, Mitchell has worked in the medical equipment sales industry, currently serving as a regional manager in the Great Lakes region for Ferring Pharmaceuticals. Along the way, he served as an analyst for the Big Ten Network briefly, too.
He resides in Maumee with his wife of six years, Danielle, 5-year-old son Mason, and 16-year-old daughter Ashleigh, who attends St. Ursula Academy. Elder daughter Torrie, 22, a University of Kentucky graduate, works in the media department for the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers.