When Tiffany Mitchell is not on a plane or a bus, she is on the court working to improve on her stellar rookie debut. Mitchell is currently playing overseas in Orenburg, Russia for Nadezhda, which means hope in Russian. We caught up with Tiffany to see what life overseas is really like.
Q: What is an average travel day like?
A: Since we’re not in a very accessible part of Russia (Orenburg), we have to take a two-hour flight to Moscow every time we have an away game. Most of our layovers can range anywhere from two to six hours. Luckily, some of my Russian teammates have been playing for a long time so we have access to lounges in the airport with Wi-Fi, food, and drinks so, the time goes by kind of fast.
After that, the plane ride to our next destination is usually around 2-3 hours; however, it could take up to five hours. Going through customs and passport control takes another 45 minutes depending on where we are. Then we take the bus to the hotel. So far, the quickest we have gotten to a hotel on the road from the airport was 30 minutes and the longest was about 4 hours!
Travel days are the worst for me. It is hard to maintain steady eating and you are moving time zones a lot so your body has no idea when to sleep or eat. You kind of just have to make the most of it.
Q: This is your first season overseas. Is it different than what you expected?
A: This is my first season playing professionally overseas; however, I have played overseas throughout college and high school. Actually, the hardest part is living out here for seven months. I was told I chose a tough country to come to for my first year just because Russia isn’t the prettiest of countries and you don’t have a lot to do. Plus, it is like negative something degrees and snowing everyday. I can only speak for Orenburg, but I’m sure other cities in Russia have a little more than we do here.
Q: How does the game differ from WNBA or college?
A: The game of basketball is all the same, now it’s just adjusting to European style of play, the coaches and what they want, learning how they want you to play but also trying not to compromise your game. I have a translator here because sometimes the language barrier plays a part with some of my teammates. As Americans, we tend to speak really fast. They know some English; however, we have to speak slower for them to understand and sometimes in game you are not thinking about speaking slowly, it just comes out. My head coach is Spanish, on a team full of Russians, two Americans, and one Swede. So, we have a lot of different conversations in the locker room, which is pretty cool. Everyone is trying to learn words from other languages. Compared to the WNBA, this league (EuroLeague) is right under the WNBA as far as competition. I get to compete against players like Angel McCoughtry and Diana Taurasi over here, which will help me tremendously once I get back to the Fever.
Q: How are you adjusting to the time difference?
A: The time difference in Orenburg is 10 hours ahead of Charlotte, where my family is. It is pretty hard at times to communicate with people back home because when I’m almost ready to go to sleep, people are just waking up at home. In order to talk to people back home, I stay up pretty late in Orenburg, some nights until 3 or 4 a.m. Also, watching college basketball has been a struggle for me because games are played at 7 p.m. in the states and in Orenburg it’s around 5 or 6 a.m., but you make it work.
Time management and sleep management is key. I am very routine oriented, and it is somewhat hard to stay on a routine since we can be in three different time zones in three days. It completely throws your body off. I have to find other ways to maximize efficiency while traveling. Things like packing snacks, drinking a ton of water, wearing recovery tights on the airplane, and foam rolling definitely help me trim down my traveling woes.
Q: How hard is it being in a foreign country when you do not speak the language?
A: Like I said earlier, Russia is a tough place to play because it’s rare you will find someone that knows English. Even at restaurants and grocery stores, I use my phone and Google Translate to take pictures of things and then it will tell me what it says in English. Saved me a couple times because I picked up duck and goat thinking it was chicken and beef!!! SO glad I had my phone! But I have picked up on a couple Russian phrases. My teammates are really nice and always trying to help me if I want to say something in Russian. Even trying to read Russian is hard because the alphabet isn’t the same. A “p” is an “r” in Russia. I’ve learned a lot of other tricks like that.
Q: How do timeouts work? Do you have a translator?
A: I do have a translator but he is just around for team functions such as practices and games and things like that. So, if I wish to venture out on my own, I just use Google Translate because there is an option where I can say something in English and it repeats it to them in Russian and vice versa.
My coach is Spanish and he speaks pretty good English but sometimes it’s more like Spanglish, some English, some Spanish all together. He speaks fast as well so some words can get lost in communication.
Q: Are you adventurous when it comes to food? What is the craziest thing you have tried?
A: I don’t think I’m too bad with trying new things. I do have to draw a line somewhere. I’m probably not going to eat horse tongue (which I was offered) but would maybe try duck liver… maybe that’s a stretch too. But mostly, I have only eaten chicken and seafood over here. The seafood is really fresh and the sushi is great! I eat sushi almost three times a week. Also, I cook a lot. I brought a ton of American food from home, so I’m getting by with that.
Q: The WNBA just released the 2017 schedule. What matchups/games are you looking forward to the most?
A: Of course the games everyone circles on their schedules are the LAs and Minnesotas because they have such high star power, but really, day in and day out we will be challenged with every team in the league. I’m really just ready to get back to the WNBA and compete. I learned a lot in my first year. The ups and downs taught me a lot. And I love it. I’m like a sponge, soaking up all the information. I also think it helped that I had a legend (Tamika Catchings) on my team for my first year. That definitely made it a smoother transition. But now with Catchings gone, everyone is going to have to grow in their own way, and I think that’s what I’m looking forward to the most.
Q: The Fever recently named Pokey Chatman as the new head coach of the Indiana Fever. What do you know about Pokey and how excited are you to have her on board?
A:I am happy to have Pokey to start my second season. I know that she coached at LSU, so she has that SEC blood and she is tough and hard-nosed. She has the same principles that I base my game off of, and I’m really looking forward to interacting with her and seeing firsthand how she coaches. I am looking forward to next season to show the improvements in my game and to be back with the team. They were so good to me last year during my rookie season and I know we have so much more we can show the league.
It’s going to be a good year. I feel it 🙂