Forget Mitchell was tired from studying for finals, or he was getting ready to take a final later in the day, or his body is exhausted from a long season followed by workouts the last month.
"He walked through the locker room with a swagger about him,'' Mitchell said. "It was my first time meeting him. I didn't know too much about him, but right off the bat he was just so passionate, and so in tune with what he wants.''
Rice was introduced during a late-afternoon press conference at Rutgers' new Visitor's Center on the Busch campus shortly after signing a five-year, $3.25 million deal.
He brings a 73-31 mark, two NCAA Tournament berths and an NIT appearance from a three-year stint as Robert Morris' head coach. But just as important during this dark time for the basketball program, he brings hope, enthusiasm, passion and personality to a program in need of a jolt.
"There's a lot of things we need to do,'' Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti said in announcing the first major hire of his tenure. "It's going to be a build in a lot of ways, and today I'm quite pleased to announce a guy that, quite frankly, wasn't looking for any job. He was looking for this job. Mike stood out in every possible way.
"His attitude is synonymous with the way we want to play basketball in New Jersey and Rutgers. His passion and energy, quite frankly, blew me away. The work ethic he has will fall in that same category.''
Rice comes to Rutgers at a time Pernetti said he will pour more resources into the program, and that includes a plan to renovate the Rutgers Athletic Center.
But he also comes looking to end a decades-long string of coaches to either be fired or resign under extreme pressure for failing to win since the glory days of Tom Young.
"Rutgers has everything a program needs to be successful; a strong academic reputation, location with so many elite basketball players within a short drive, tradition and an amazing fan base,'' Rice said. "Recruiting, my focus will be on getting the best players in the tri-state area. I have a long history of recruiting this corridor …It's a unique area to recruit to.
"I think my experience of being a head coach, and my experience being around winning programs, I think that will make the difference."
Rice inherits a program that hasn't had a winning season since 2005-06, and a roster that, in its current configuration, has eight scholarship players on it for next season after leading scorer Mike Rosario and reserve wing Pat Jackson were granted permission to transfer after the season.
The Scarlet Knights are also depleted in the front court, where little-used Brian Okam is the lone true center.
But during Thursday's team meeting, Rice made it clear he expects his player to be in tremendous physical shape, work hard and represent the school in a positive manner.
"These are the guys who want to be here,'' Rice said. "This is the ultimate underdog team. ...There was a pride about me that these young men really want to be part of rebuilding.''
Rice said he plans to add a few more players to the fold quickly, and will have several players on campus within the next seven days.
"He said we definitely need a few more bodies because the way he wants to play, you can't play 40 minutes in a game,'' Mitchell said. "He said the way he runs things, you can't play more than five minutes at a time. If you're not giving everything you have, you're going to hear about it.''