CHARLOTTE | The now-defunct Charlotte Sting of the WNBA gave girls basketball players across the Carolinas a set of role models to follow.
Perhaps the most prominent team member was South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley, who helped the Sting to the 2001 WNBA Finals. Staley made a mark both as a player and an ambassador, and her efforts more than a decade ago are now helping her on the recruiting trail.
Providence Day (N.C.) guard Tiffany Mitchell, one of the nation’s best prospects in the Class of 2012, committed to the Gamecocks earlier this month. She grew up idolizing Staley and jumped at the chance to play for her in Columbia.
Mitchell’s decision was cemented by the relationship she developed and comfort she felt with Staley, her assistant coaches and the members of the program.
“It started when I was younger and she played here for the Sting,” Mitchell said. “I went to a lot of WNBA games. I looked up to her growing up. I never really thought I’d have the opportunity to talk to her, so her recruiting me was special. I never thought it would happen to me, so I took advantage of the opportunity.”
A smooth combo guard capable of handling the ball, shooting from the perimeter and getting to the basket, the 5-foot-10 Mitchell is rated the 39th-best player nationally in the junior class by ESPN.
She averages 17.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, 4.6 steals and 3.8 assists per game for the Chargers, who enter the private school state tournament Thursday at 25-4 and winners of 18 straight. A perennial power, Providence Day is the defending state champion and a favorite to repeat.
Mitchell, an all-state performer in each of her first three seasons, is a big part of their success, contributing on both ends of the floor. She’s had as many as 31 points, 18 rebounds, 10 steals and nine steals in one game or another this year. It’s that diversity that has allowed her to develop into a major prospect.
“I think her natural position is on the wing,” Providence Day coach Josh Springer said. “She can play the point guard. Her basketball IQ is outstanding, but I think she’s at her best – on whatever level, high school, AAU or college – when you have somebody else handling the ball and getting you into your offense. Then you give her the ball and let her score. It’s that simple. Don’t make it really difficult.”
Mitchell is shooting 40 percent from the field this season, including 28 percent from behind the 3-point arc. Those numbers are solid, but she readily admits that she needs to improve as a shooter. That’s why Springer would prefer that she put the ball on the floor and use her quickness to penetrate the lane.
“I think Tiffany is extremely difficult to guard at the basket,” Springer said. “Her body control and ability to take a bump from somebody twice her size and still be able to finish is exceptional. I think she’s best when she’s going to the rim. She’s good from the perimeter, but you can talk to any coach and they’ll tell you she’s nearly unguardable off the dribble.
“She worked extremely hard on her pull-up jump shot. She realizes at the next level it’s going to be hard to score over 6-4, 6-5 people in the SEC. So, she’s worked on body balance and body control.”
Springer said sometimes Mitchell gets frustrated playing in high school and AAU settings because her teammates aren’t able to process the game quite as fast as she does. So, there are times when she throws passes that hit her unprepared teammates square between the eyes. It’s those instincts, Springer says, that intrigued Staley and her staff.
“I think I’ll fit in well [at USC],” said Mitchell, who chose USC over Auburn, Florida, Kentucky and Georgia Tech. “Their style is play is how I play: fast paced and running the floor.
“I’m more of a slasher. I’m able to shoot the 3 and run some point. I think I have an all-around game. I’m not just one dimensional.”