Mitch Charlens returns to coach at City College

Former men’s basketball head coach is excited and grateful to be back at City

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Mitch Charlens cuts down the net after the Knights defeat Ventura College to advance to the Elite Eight State championship game back in 2018. Charlens returns to coach the Knights basketball team next season. Photo courtesy of Knights Athletics

Antonio Contreras , Multimedia Journalist

San Diego City College announced longtime men’s basketball coach Mitch Charlens accepted an assistant coaching role with the University of San Diego program last August.

But Charlens never wanted to leave City College, nor did he ever apply for another job, he said.

“The (previous) head coach of USD (Sam Scholl) approached me and watched how I recruited, ran practices and built a culture at City,” Charlens said. “He saw that skillset with the success we’ve had here, and he wanted me to bring that to him.”

Although the Toreros improved during Charlens’ brief tenure as an assistant coach at USD, going from winning just three games to a record of 15-16, Scholl and his staff were fired in early March, after their third consecutive losing season. That included Charlens.

In April, USD announced Steve Lavin as their new head coach to take over in 2022. Lavin, 57 has coached at storied programs UCLA and St. John’s, coached the Bruins from 1996-2003, making the NCAA Tournament six out of the seven years. He then made his way to the Johnnies, making the NCAA Tournament twice from 2010-2015.

Charlens returned to City after serving as an assistant coach for one season at USD.

“San Diego City College is home to me and it’s been home for so long,” Charlens said. “I didn’t take it for granted, but being gone for this season, it really made me realize how amazing this place is from the people, the leadership, and environment.”

While Charlens was at USD, he stayed in touch with interim City coach Andy Ground but stepped away from the players he was responsible for recruiting.

“These kids came here to City College to play for me, so it was hard to leave,” Charlens said. “I didn’t want the team to be divided between me or the head coach and didn’t want there to be a conflict of any kind.”

Under Ground’s leadership, the Knights went 16-0 in the Pacific Coast Athletic Conference and finished 25-4 overall. City’s leading scorer Jonathan Ogugua (17.0 ppg) was named PCAC Most Valuable Player and has committed to play at the University of Texas at Tyler.

Drew Cisse (first team), Josh Williams (first team), Makiah Morris (second team), Anthony Howell (second team) and Graham Cook (honorable mention) were also selected to the All-PCAC team.

Charlens wasn’t surprised how great the team performed.

“They were amazing and I expected that from them,” Charlens said. “I knew how great of a coach Andy Ground is and I knew the caliber of players that we left him.”

Since Charlens started coaching at City in 2004, he has led the Knights to a state championship (2017), seven PCAC titles, 325 total wins and seven PCAC Coach of the Year awards in 16 seasons.

“We were excited for his opportunity at USD, (but) we’re happy he was coming back and there’s lots of excitement of bringing back another championship,” City College athletic director Aaron Detty said. “He really is tied into City, his family is all about City and he knows the college. He knows the system and the little nuances of helping student-athletes.”

Choosing to return wasn’t a decision Charlens wanted to rush, something Detty supported.

“We just wanted him to know that we were open to him whenever he wanted to come back and welcomed him in open arms,” Detty said.

But in the end, it was the people he worked with at City who convinced Charlens to come back.

“The administration here was really supportive of me and were not pressuring me,” Charlens said. “They were just offering support and just being amazing. The players wanted to see me, so being back on this campus, being back where we’ve done so many amazing things, struck me and (I) didn’t have that feeling while at USD.”