Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

WNBA Feature: Tiffany Mitchell Gives Indy a Promising Future Despite Fever's Current Struggles

By Rob Knox @knoxrob1

INDIANAPOLIS – Tiffany Mitchell never stops.

Two hours before game time against the Washington Mystics at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Friday night while workers applied finishing touches to the arena and ushers received final instructions, Mitchell’s burgundy-and-black ponytail consistently flapped like a pendulum as she worked up a sweaty lather, slid to her sweet spots, and fired jumpers.

The basket barely moved as her shots softly swished through the net like one of Jimmy Chitwood’s jumpers in the movie “Hooisers.”

“I kind of overwork myself for times when my team needs me,” a smiling Mitchell said during a pregame interview Friday. “I am that energizer bunny for our team so I can’t be the one that’s tired. I take pride and hang my hat on always being ready and never getting tired.”

It’s a mentality the 5 foot, 9 inch Mitchell has always had.

She’s the first on the floor and usually the last person to leave the arena. It’s how the powerfully compact Mitchell is built. She played at South Carolina and under the ruthlessly intense Dawn Staley.

“Playing for her, you always have to be hard-nosed and have tough skin,” Mitchell said. “That’s definitely rubbed off on me having been coached by her for four years. I was always the one that even after practicing for three hours, I would always stay longer and get more shots up and push my body to limits I didn’t think were possible. It’s a mindset.”

An enthusiastic second year player for the Indiana Fever, Mitchell was a constant blur before and during the Fever’s 72-58 setback to the Washington Mystics.

Mitchell finished with 10 points, which was half of the Fever’s bench output in 24 minutes. In addition, she led the Fever with a career-best eight rebounds as she relentlessly attacked the basket, took defenders off of the dribble and played with her usual mix of passion and purpose.

However, her most impressive moment during a tough evening for the Fever may have been following a missed a 3-pointer during the first half. Instead of hanging her head, she hustled to force a Mystics turnover.

“I love being depended on to bring that energy defensively,” Mitchell said. “The pressure of having to start gets taken off of you because you get to see the game more and how the flow of the game is going. So it’s a little easier for me to come off the bench. I can see how they are guarding other people and they’re a little tired when I come in.”

She’s averaging 10.6 points per game for the Fever, who are in the midst of their first four-game losing streak since 2014.

Mitchell, who has helped Indiana’s bench outscore its opponents 15 times, is the bridge from the Fever’s glorious past to its bright future. Unfortunately, the present is a little rocky as Indiana’s streak of 12 consecutive playoff appearances could in jeopardy.

“I think I have improved different aspects of my game especially mentally,” Mitchell said. “Just how I think the game and how I am able to recognize coverages. I believe that’s been my biggest improvement from year one to year two. My season has been up and down. I started off well and lately, I’ve kind of plateaued the last couple of games.”

Mitchell enjoyed a strong season playing for Nadezhda Orenburg in Russia. She averaged 10.6 points, 2.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists in the Russian Superleague. She also averaged 9.8 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists in EuroLeague competition.

“The European style of play and how people played me over there definitely helped me and got me ready for when I came back here,” Mitchell said. “Year two is a lot more comfortable than year one. You’re a rookie and just doing whatever. You don’t know a lot scheme-wise, so you do whatever and stick to your guns. Now you start thinking the game a little more and you can see how people are guarding you.”

Mitchell has made an impact since being drafted ninth overall in the 2016 Draft.

After becoming the third Indiana player to be named to the WNBA All-Rookie Team, she started this season by scoring in double figures in seven of her first nine games. Earlier this season, Mitchell set the Fever franchise record by making 43 consecutive free throws, surpassing the mark of 42 she established last year.

Veteran guard and teammate Briann January paid Mitchell the ultimate compliment.

“You see a little of Tamika Catchings in her,” January said. “She has that work ethic and that grind. She’s setting her goals and working to achieve them everyday. I’ve seen a ton of growth in her. You could see that she had the talent and work-ethic coming out of college, but it was all about the learning curve.”

While the Fever know there’s plenty of games remaining in the season, the upcoming four-game road trip, with three contests before the All-Star break will be challenging.

Currently in 10th place overall and trailing the Dallas Wings by one game for the final playoff spot, the Fever visit Los Angeles Monday, Phoenix on Wednesday and San Antonio on Thursday.

“The way this league is, anybody can lose on any given day,” Mitchell said. “As a team, we’re not worried about what place we’re in right now. We’re just focused on us, being able to defend and get stops. We have the pieces to be a good team.”