Andrew Erickson The Columbus Dispatch
The Big Ten’s most feared scorer has a few fears of her own.
Sometime in the next 42 days, Kelsey Mitchell’s Ohio State career will end, and it’s likely that she’ll finish that four-year run as the No. 2 or No. 3 scorer in Division I women’s basketball. But the future is difficult to predict, and the mind tends to wander toward the future on days such as Sunday.
Before No. 16 Ohio State’s game against Purdue, the 5-foot-8 guard from Cincinnati will be one of five seniors recognized as part of the program’s senior day. With that rite of passage, Mitchell said, comes a few thoughts about what comes next, in regard to both the conclusion of her final collegiate season and the possible WNBA and overseas basketball adventures to come.
“I don’t know if anybody else in my position or in my shoes understands, but it kind of scares you. You don’t know what’s gonna happen,” Mitchell said. “You don’t know what your season’s going to be like in the end. I mean, you want it to be great, I want to be great, I want it to end on a good note. That’s what my goal is, but who knows?”
With only a handful of games remaining in her college career, a statistically off-the-charts Mitchell has less against which to measure herself than most. So she often finds herself comparing her present game and production with past experiences to gauge her growth.
Over the years, Mitchell has improved her sedentary basketball game. She’s better able to sit and watch her — relatively few — shortcomings play out on film.
“I used to be scared to watch film, because a person like me, I always remember what’s about to happen. I’m scared, like, ‘Oh, right here I just airballed,‘” she said. “I have some breakdowns, but for the most part, that’s where I’ve matured most, and that’s where I have to continue to mature if I want to be a pro, if I want to go to the next level.”
Said coach Kevin McGuff: “She’s very hard on herself. She doesn’t like to see herself making mistakes, but I think she’s learned that you can watch that and kind of be hard on yourself, but you don’t have to be down on yourself. I think that’s an area that she’s probably grown a lot in.”
Self-criticism is a trait shared by many talented athletes, but Mitchell has remained grounded in hers through a support system that has long included her twin sister, Chelsea.
“She’s been in my corner a long time,” Mitchell said.
It’s a bond that has been complicated this season. Chelsea Mitchell since mid-January has been “away from the team to focus on academics,” McGuff said then in discussing her absence.
“We came in together. We’re twins. If one does something, the other does something; that’s how we were raised, and so now she’s not playing,” Mitchell said of her sister. “She took a different path. She’s on something different, she’s on a whole new wave, so to see her do something different …”
Mitchell’s voice trailed off. Her sister’s absence has been difficult, she said.
“It’s tough. I miss her,” Mitchell said. “Chelsea’s out there living right now, and I love it because that’s who she is. She loves who she is, and I love that. With basketball, we started together, and we’ve been doing it for so long, and I’ve grown to accept now that she doesn’t want to play it.”
In a way, it’s strange for Mitchell as she thinks about her pro career and thinks about her sister not having a starring role in that path. Over the past couple of months, she said, it has been challenging to look a few seats down on the Ohio State bench and not see Chelsea.
“It’s bizarre from a standpoint of we’ve never been detached from one another. Now I’m not seeing that person on the bench saying, ‘Turn the page, it’s OK. It’s gonna be all right. Keep your head in the game,’” Mitchell said. “That went a long way. Even when I didn’t have a teammate to look to, you always had your sister. A sister’s different from a teammate. It’s just different.”
The NBA’s Morris brothers can relate, Mitchell said. So can the Wessons on Ohio State’s men’s team.
“Chelsea’s detached from me now, so I’m learning a whole different role in regards to her supporting me from afar,” she said.
It makes Mitchell think more about the independence of professional basketball, about staying strong in those difficult moments, and about the inevitable end of a brilliant Ohio State women’s basketball career.
“I feel the same,” Mitchell said of her emotions. “The difference is that once the buzzer rings, it’s over. You don’t get another chance at it, but I guess that’s the love in it. I’m going to take every moment of it and enjoy it, even in bad moments.”