When Indiana Fever guard Tiffany Mitchell fell to No. 9 in the 2016 WNBA draft, she swore she would make the preceding eight teams regret not selecting her. She’s done a pretty good job so far.
Mitchell has recorded eight consecutive double-digit scoring efforts – the only Fever rookie in history to do so to begin their pro career.
To tip off her rookie campaign, the South Carolina grad has recorded eight consecutive double-digit scoring efforts – the only Fever rookie in history to do so to begin their pro career. She matches Dominique Canty (Detroit, 1999) as the only WNBA rookies drafted ninth or later to begin their careers with eight in-a-row.
By comparison, All-Star forward Tamika Catchings had just a two-game double figure scoring streak to begin her career. Catchings’ 15-game double-digit streak later in her rookie season is the Fever standard for a rookie overall. Mitchell’s current streak is second.
Last Sunday, Mitchell paced all scorers with a career-high 21 points to propel her team to a victory over the Connecticut Sun. Not only did she lead the team in scoring, but the rookie accounted for 13 of the Fever’s 15 fourth quarter points – the difference between winning and losing the 88-77 contest.
Mitchell’s college experience has certainly helped prepare her for the WNBA. In her senior season with the Gamecocks, she averaged an impressive 14.9 points per game. She’s brought a steady and consistent rhythm to Indiana, and it’s helped her to lead the Fever in scoring and steals thus far, averaging 15.1 points and 1.63 steals per game.
Mitchell’s college coach and mentor, Dawn Staley, never expected anything less from the two-time SEC Player of the Year.
“I’m one who is not surprised by Tiffany’s early success,” said Staley. “She has worked and prepared for this moment. Don’t be surprised if she’s the WNBA Rookie of the Year.”
Staley is not the only one who sees Mitchell’s potential. Fever President and GM Kelly Krauskopf recognized the rookie’s capabilities right away.
“Getting up on the floor and competing on the next play or coming back the next day and maintaining that level of consistent effort – that’s what sets Tiffany apart.”
“Since Tiffany arrived at training camp, she’s really showed a lot of the training and coaching she’s had at South Carolina,” said Krauskopf. “Three of the things that I really liked about her watching her college career were her poise, her athleticism and how she approached the game.”
According to Krauskopf, confidence is the main ingredient to a successful rookie campaign – and Mitchell has shown lots of it.
“From day one, [Mitchell]’s had a level of confidence that I think has really helped her transition into as good a player as she’s been so far,” added Krauskopf.
“I’ve been doing this for 16 years, and when I see players come in for their first couple weeks of training camp there’s always a differentiating factor. A lot of it has to do with their inner drive and their level of confidence. They’re going to have bad days and bad games, but getting up on the floor and competing on the next play or coming back the next day and maintaining that level of consistent effort – that’s what sets Tiffany apart.”
Fever head coach Stephanie White agrees that Mitchell’s mentality makes her a unique asset.
“Tiffany’s special,” said White. “She’s got the opportunity to be a special player in this league for a very long time. She’s got great skills and a great mind for the game, and she’s a two-way player. She’s not a liability at either end of the floor, like some rookies when they first make the transition from college. She fits our culture, she’s got great quickness, she’s physical and she defends. She’s tough and she’s a gym rat. She reminds me a lot of the way Catchings came in to the league, and that says something about her.”
Catchings doesn’t deny that she can see some of herself in the way Mitchell approaches the game.
“Her athleticism and her knack for the ball,” are facets of Mitchell’s game that Catchings says are reminiscent of her own rookie season in 2002. “When I watch her, it’s like there’s nothing forced. It just happens.”
If those factors make for another WNBA All-Star and MVP, the Fever may be harboring one of the next great names in women’s basketball.
“She’s been really good at creating her own shots and feeling her way through the defense to make open looks not only for herself, but for the team,” added Catchings.
The veteran Fever guards have also taken notice of her ambition and abilities.
“She’s fearless. She doesn’t take a back seat,” said Marissa Coleman. “She doesn’t care who’s guarding her or who she’s defending – she’s going to compete.”
“I think her confidence is the biggest thing and her attack mentality,” added Shenise Johnson. “Whether she’s made one or missed one, she’s still going to come out and come right back at you. I love it.”
With the bulk of her rookie season still ahead of her, there’s no telling what honors may be in store for Mitchell. But one thing’s for sure – she’ll bring an unparalleled level of confidence and the drive to succeed to every contest she enters.