June 13, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
In a league full of stars, rookies often have to wait their turn for a chance to shine. Don’t tell that to former South Carolina All-American Tiffany Mitchell. Playing in her first season in the WNBA for the Indiana Fever, Mitchell has started five of 10 games so far and leads the team in scoring with 13.6 points per game. She also leads the team in steals and 3-point field goals made. While there is still much to learn, it’s been a pretty nice transition for the two-time SEC Player of the Year.
“It’s been kind of smoother than I had expected,” Mitchell said of her transition to the WNBA. “I knew I was coming into a new system and that I was going to be around new players, so I knew I was going to have some peaks and valleys in the transition. The vets have been working with me to make sure I know the plays and know where to be. The help from them has really helped my transition to be smoother.”
Mitchell matched a league record for the most double-figure scoring games to begin a career by any player drafted ninth or lower in the WNBA draft after registering eight straight double-digit performances. Mitchell is quick to point out that playing at South Carolina for head coach Dawn Staley not only helped her become one of the all-time greats for the Gamecocks, but also helped prepare her for life as a professional athlete.
“What I took away from playing for Coach Staley was discipline,” Mitchell said. “She has always been a very disciplined person. It has definitely helped me here because in the pros, you are kind of on your own in terms of your approach to the game. So I just learned from her that I have to take the right approach in everything I do. My approach is just to get better every day, do better than the day before, and try to learn something new.”
“I’ve always been a competitor, but playing under her, you tend to emulate your coach. Just seeing how much she competed as a player and now as a coach, it rubbed off.”
Mitchell grew up idolizing Staley during her hall of fame playing days as a professional as well as a member of Team USA. Mitchell made the most of her four years under Staley’s tutelage to not only learn the game, but also what it takes to succeed beyond the collegiate level.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations about her professional career,” Mitchell said. “That’s one of the reasons I chose to go to South Carolina because she has done things in her career that I want to follow and do as well. So we’ve always been in communication about the steps I need to take to become one of the best players out here. Those conversations have definitely helped me make an easier transition from South Carolina to the Fever.”
Graduating was the most important thing,” Mitchell said. “That’s what Coach Staley preaches. It was big for me, my mom and my family.
Mitchell’s senior season came to an end in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. While she had hoped to help the Gamecocks reach the NCAA Final Four for the second-straight season, she was able to use that disappointment as she prepared for her rookie season as a professional.
“It just motivated me to put my best foot forward,” Mitchell said. “My college career didn’t end the way I wanted it to, but I knew there was still basketball for me to play. I just let that motivate me to become better.”
Despite her recent success, Mitchell is still humble and knows she still has a lot of work to do to succeed as a professional.
“I definitely don’t have it all figured out right now,” Mitchell said. “My teammates are just putting me in good positions to be successful. I’m willing to do whatever I need to do out on the floor and do whatever my teammates need me to do.”
Mitchell has enjoyed playing alongside teammate Tamika Catchings, a legend in her own right with 10 All-WNBA selections as well as the 2011 league MVP award during her 15-year professional career.
“The opportunity that I have with the Fever is a once-in-a-lifetime thing because I get to play with Tamika,” Mitchell said. “I get to learn from her and be alongside her every day. Seeing how she approaches basketball on and off the court is great for me to see as a rookie. I’m just trying to learn as much as possible.”
Mitchell’s professional career took off as the spring semester was winding down at South Carolina, but she was still able to come back to campus between games to walk at graduation in May.
“Graduating was the most important thing,” Mitchell said. “That’s what Coach Staley preaches. It was big for me, my mom and my family.”
While she no longer wears a South Carolina uniform, she won’t ever be able to forget where she came from. This was evident in the Fever’s visit to Atlanta to take on the Dream on May 29 when a multitude of fans, including Staley, made the trip to show their support.
“It meant a lot to see the support I still get even though I’m not in South Carolina anymore,” Mitchell said. “It was amazing to come out and see all of the Garnet and Black and some of our fans wearing my shirt with my name on the back. I was once one of those people in the stands watching other WNBA players, so for that to be reversed, it really meant a lot to me.”
Her accolades notwithstanding, Mitchell also likes to have fun. Whether it was video-bombing Paul Finebaum on live TV, or playing tricks on Coach Staley and teammates, Mitchell’s reputation as a prankster approached legendary status while with the Gamecocks. As she makes her way in the WNBA, she is staying humble and hasn’t gone after Fever head coach Stephanie White or her teammates yet.
“I’m still trying to settle in,” Mitchell laughed. “I’m not pranking them yet, but in due time, it’s going to come.”
Fans wishing to see Mitchell in action can tune into ESPN 2 on Tuesday at 8 p.m. as Indiana travels to Minnesota to take on the Lynx.
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