Final Score: Delaware Blue Coats 143, Raptors 905 139, | Box Score
Two-Ways: Justin Champagnie, David Johnson (905),
On Assignment: Dalano Banton, Isaac Bonga (905), Charlie Brown Jr., Myles Powell (Blue Coats)
“I don’t know how to answer that question.”
Raptors 905 Head Coach Patrick Mutombo had just been through an emotional Conference Finals loss to the Delaware Blue Coats. When 905 forward Justin Smith dove head long after a loose ball that seemed well beyond his reach, snatched the rock, and gave the team a new possession, Mutombo’s edicts of selflessness and service were fulfilled. The question was, does he get any joy during moments like this, or is it just on to the next play? Mutombo took the question in a different, deep direction.
“Our mandate is to coach, develop. Our passion is to win. My fire, my deepest desire is for winning. I’m learning to be gracious in defeat. When I coach the game I try to keep things in perspective, so I think about what the team needs: how to lead’em, how to guide’em, how to instruct’em. I guess there’s joy there. I have moments of laughter, anger, sadness, frustration, questioning. But ultimately when it’s all said and done I’m in such a privileged position, being afforded the opportunity to serve. To serve these young men, serve the organization. I’ve learned. I’m still learning. So… that’s my answer.”
The game itself was perhaps as emotional as Mutombo’s answer. The 905 fell down double digits early and spent the majority of the game fighting back, only to have their persistence constantly met by brilliant Blue Coats execution. Delaware assignees Myles Powell and Charlie Brown Jr. scored 34 and 28 points respectively, while Delaware shot 18-for-44 (41%) from beyond the arc, many of those threes coming after the 905 had pulled to within one possession in the second half. Raptors 905 assignee Dalano Banton had 34 points, 11 assists and four rebounds, and two-way Justin Champagnie scored a game-high 36, adding 10 rebounds.
“The more time Dalano spent with us the better he became,” Coach Mutombo said. Banton played three games in April as a 905 assignee, averaging 26.7 points off 55 FG%, nine assists and 8.7 rebounds.
“Give him credit. I think he bought into our message and wanted to be part of it. He helped us tremendously when he was here because of his immense talent and it was truly a joy and a privilege to coach him. The future is bright for him.”
Banton’s ability to finish in traffic and create shots for others in tight quarters blossomed during this late-season run. On Sunday, Banton had a couple beautiful drop-offs for layups, finished layups of his own with both hands off either foot, and threw in a stunning pirouette layup for fun.
Champagnie also showcased his season-long improvement as a three point shooter, going 5-for-12 from beyond the arc, and grabbed his now-standard 10 rebounds. Champagnie only shot 31% from three point range in college, so entering the NBA he seemed to profile as an undersized, high-energy power forward whose elite skill was offensive rebounding. But Champagnie shot nearly 41% from deep on a volume of 6.3 attempts per game in the G League. Perhaps he joins the Raptors as a full time roster player next year.; he certainly fits in with the all-hybrid-switchable lineups Head Coach Nick Nurse loves to throw out.
Banton and Champagnie also seemed to thoroughly enjoy their time when they were in Mississauga, even if technically they were being “sent down.” Both spoke earnestly of connections made with Coach Mutombo. Banton appreciated that Mutombo held him accountable, while Champagnie attributes Mutombo for helping a 20-year old kid become a professional off the floor by emphasizing that “everyone’s watching” him, so he needs to conduct himself in an appropriate way.
Mutombo, for his part, appreciates the “heavy” responsibility of helping these young men.
“I grew a lot as a man, as a leader, as a coach, as a servant (this season),” Mutombo reflected. “It’s such a privilege and an honour to be given the stewardship of that locker room. You don’t take it for granted. It takes being prepared, being intentional every day so that these men can get to where they need to get to and for me to honour the mandate that was given to me.”
Mutombo has spent two seasons as Head Coach with the 905, leading both teams to first place finishes, boasting the G League’s top-ranked offence last year, and the top-ranked defence in 2022. A proud father of four boys, leading young men seeking their place in the professional world certainly has its transferrable skills. Mutombo deserves a high-ranking spot on an NBA bench. All three prior 905 Head Coaches have moved back to the NBA (Jerry Stackhouse became an assistant with the Grizzlies before becoming Vanderbilt University’s Head Coach). Much like Banton and Champagnie, a promising NBA future awaits the G League franchise’s fourth Head Coach.
“Silence,” Mutombo said when asked what music he’d listen to on the drive home. “Right now I’m just going to listen to my heart a little bit. I’ll probably go and put my kids to bed, dry their tears. I’ll probably cry myself to sleep a little bit. Spend some time with my wife. At some point I’m sure music will come in there, but I’m not sure yet.”
Please check out the Rapcast podcast feed for my series of interviews with Raptors 905 personnel, aptly titled “The Interview.” I’m hopeful for some great post-postseason guests!