Kelsey Mitchell’s transition to college basketball hasn’t been easy, but she can count on her family being nearby.
Her family is so close in fact, they are with her on the sidelines in her first season.
Women’s basketball coach Kevin McGuff’s first true recruiting class at Ohio State was complete after he signed five freshmen to scholarships in the fall of 2013, with the hopes of long-term success headlined by a 5-foot-8-inch guard from Cincinnati’s Princeton High School.
Mitchell was the fifth-best prospect in the nation according to ESPNW, and despite coming in with five stars next to her name, Mitchell said she’s still adjusting to the collegiate level.
“The transition, I’m not going to lie, has been hard,” she said. “Especially knowing that I’m not too big and I play a lot of big girls. The IQ of the game at the college level is so much different. You have to learn the mental aspect of the whole game. It’s like preschool all over again. But it’s not that bad because I like going through the growing pains, so the growing pains will help me in the long run.”
Her twin sister, Chelsea, is also a member of the women’s basketball team. And their father, Mark Mitchell, is one of their coaches.
Assistant coach Mark Mitchell arrived at OSU for the 2013-14 season after coaching high school basketball for both men and women in the Greater Cincinnati area for over 20 years.
Well before he arrived in Columbus, he knew Kelsey Mitchell had talent.
“When she was 4 years old, she chased a little boy that pushed her down,” Mark Mitchell said. “She chased him around for the whole game. It took her the whole game to push him back. And then she got the ball and scored three or four points and won the game. At that point right there, you knew she was going to be special.”
Regardless of his daughter’s talent, Mark Mitchell didn’t always want her on the court.
“I always tried to deter her from playing too early too soon, so my sons at that time were in the fourth grade and she would always sit next to me and would always ask to play,” he said. “And I’d be like, ‘No you can’t.’”
One day, though, Kelsey Mitchell got to play, surprising her dad, who expected her to struggle.
“Her brother gets a steal, passes it to her and she knocks down a 10-foot shot at age 4,” Mark Mitchell said. “And she proceeded to score eight more points, in a fourth-grade boys’ game, at age 4. At that point in time, we all kind of knew she was going to be special.”
Having her family in Columbus has helped Mitchell throughout the season and also smoothed her overall transition into college life, she said.
“It makes a lot of things better knowing my family’s around,” she said. “Having my family around makes it so much better and makes me more relaxed. It helps keep a positive mindset.”
She played other sports like soccer growing up, but basketball always kept Kelsey Mitchell’s attention.
Now well over a decade since her brother assisted her on that first 10-foot shot, Kelsey Mitchell is dominating the scoreboard in her first collegiate season.
She’s the current leader in the country in points per game with 25.8 and second in the country in three-point field goals attempted per game with 3.71. She’s also the lone freshman in the top-128 in points per game.
Her numbers speak for her basketball IQ, and show that there’s a possibility of a professional career in the future. But Mitchell said she hasn’t looked that far down the road.
“I haven’t thought that far,” she said. “But if I’m fortunate to get that far then, thank you God, but no, I haven’t thought that far ahead. I’m just trying to focus on now.”
She said if she doesn’t pursue a professional basketball career post-graduation, she would like to be an athletic director.
“I’d definitely like to become an athletic director one day,” Kelsey Mitchell, who’s major is currently exploration, said. “And in the process, who knows, maybe I’ll become Ohio State’s. I may take Gene (Smith’s) place.”
To play professional basketball, Kelsey Mitchell might still need to work on her overall game, and junior guard Ameryst Alston said that her back court partner can only get better.
“She’s only a freshman,” Alston said. “So she obviously has three more years to where she can get even better and it’s going to make her an even dangerous player.”
Coming into the season, McGuff said he thought Mitchell would be a great addition to the team, but didn’t expect the type of play that she has brought to the Buckeyes.
“I thought she’d be very impactful from day one,” McGuff said. “And I think she’s probably doing a little bit more than I thought she would. But having spent more time around her, I’m not surprised. She loves to play the game, she’s extremely talented, got great instincts and she’s a really tough player.”
Kelsey Mitchell said the one aspect of her game that she needs to improve on is lowering the number of fouls she gets per game.
“I’ve always had at least three to four fouls, or I’ve fouled out,” she said.
But with the start she’s had, the time and dedication the two-time Big Ten Player of the Week and five-time Freshman of the Week spends on improving her craft will determine her status at OSU.