Dec. 27, 2017
By Brad Muller | More Features
Tiffany Mitchell (2012-2016) wants to pick up where she left off, and she also wants to continue to follow in the footsteps of her former college coach, mentor, and childhood idol Dawn Staley. The two-time SEC Player of the Year at South Carolina and 2016 first round draft pick of the WNBA’s Indiana Fever is currently rehabbing a knee injury that cut short her second professional season, and she has a lot of goals still in front of her.
“It’s definitely a goal of mine to compete in the Olympics for Team USA some day and have a chance to win a gold medal,” Mitchell said. “I have a goal medal from (2014 FIBA World Championships in Moscow) 3-on-3 basketball. To try out and compete to try to be an Olympian is definitely one of my goals.”
Mitchell knows that getting the chance to represent her country in the Olympics, whether it’s 2020 or later, will be a huge challenge, even though Staley is currently the head coach for Team USA. For now, Mitchell is happy to learn how she can continue to improve her game.
“I keep in touch with her as much as possible,” Mitchell said of Staley. “In the WNBA season, I still try to pick her brain as to what she sees and try to get as much input and teaching from her as possible.
“She is a player’s coach. She is more worried about how we are after basketball and once we leave the program. She’s really personable, down to earth, and so easy to talk to. The relationship I’ve built with Coach Staley is incredible. In between the lines and on the court, it’s all business. Off the court, she and I have very ‘chill’ personalities, and we just go with the flow. We can joke and laugh about just about anything.”
Mitchell is one of the most decorated student-athletes in South Carolina history, earning All-America honors and first team All-SEC accolades three times as well as the prestigious University President’s Award. She helped the Gamecocks win three straight SEC Regular Season Championships and a pair of SEC Tournament titles, in addition to the program’s first NCAA Final Four appearance in 2015.
“The individual accolades were great, but the team atmosphere, and everybody that I did all of that with, and the support I had was great,” Mitchell said. “Making it to the schools’ first [NCAA] Final Four was great.”
Seeing the Gamecocks continue that success after she had graduated with last year’s National Championship also made her proud.
“I knew there was one on the cusp of happening,” Mitchell said. “I knew it was coming just because of how she has built the program. I was really happy for them, and I was really proud they brought one back to South Carolina.”
Mitchell made an immediate impact in the WNBA after being selected ninth overall in the 2016 draft by the Indiana Fever. Following her rookie season, she played professionally in Russia.
“After my rookie the year in the WNBA, going overseas definitely helped me,” Mitchell said. “I learned more about my game, so that when I came back for year two, I was more confident. My second year, if I had a bad shooting night, my confidence was still there so I could pick it up in the second half. Being able to know more about my game definitely helped me.”
I still wear my South Carolina gear proudly in Indiana. I’m so proud to be a Gamecock.
Mitchell noted that being that far from home was a culture shock.
“Being there for eight months, I picked up on some of the basics of the language,” Mitchell laughed. “Simple things like hey, goodbye, where’s the bathroom and stuff like that.
“Being away from my family for eight months was definitely a new experience for me. I had played overseas with USA Basketball, but it wasn’t for this long. Just being able to adapt to being away from everyone that long was the biggest thing. Of course, the time difference made things crazy, and it was really cold.”
Year two in the WNBA was going well as Mitchell was averaging 10 points per game before a knee injury cut her season short and prevented her from playing professionally in Turkey this year. Mitchell was known as a “gym rat” during her days at South Carolina, and admits she is sometimes at odds with her desire to get more shots up and give her body some needed rest.
“I’m pretty much the same way about going to the gym,” Mitchell said. “I’m learning the hard way that I’m going to need some rest some days. You can’t always be ‘go, go, go.’ I’m still learning to balance. I have to mandate some days of rest in between.”
As she prepares for her third season in the WNBA, Mitchell was thrilled to play against some other former Gamecocks last season with Allisha Gray and Kaela Davis being first round draft picks of the Dallas Wings last year, and Alaina Coates waiting in the wings after missing the 2017 WNBA season following her first round selection by the Chicago Sky.
“It was a great feeling this past season with them in the league,” Mitchell said. “My Rookie year, I was the lone Gamecock in the league. To have them there, play well and be great additions to the league was great, and I was really happy to have them be a part of the WNBA. Those numbers are going to keep growing.”
Mitchell noted that no matter where she travels now in the WNBA, there are Gamecock fans present to make her feel at home.
“I actually do see [South Carolina] fans everywhere I go in the WNBA,” Mitchell said. “I was surprised when I’d go some places and see Gamecock shirts in the stands and they’re yelling ‘Tiffany.’
“I still wear my South Carolina gear proudly in Indiana. I’m so proud to be a Gamecock. I know what it took for the program to get to the national spotlight.”
A recent return to Colonial Life Arena as a spectator put the spotlight on her one more time.
“It was a little different being there and not running out of the tunnel with a jersey on,” Mitchell said. “As always, Gamecock Nation showed me some love when they introduced me before the game. I do miss that feeling of playing in front of all of those great fans.”
Although she is one of the most recognizable figures in the women’s basketball program at South Carolina, she is humble about her own celebrity compared to her former coach and is hungry to follow in her footsteps.
“Until I complete what she has done in her career, it’s always going to be Coach Staley,” Mitchell said.
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