When a team has a player as talented and accomplished as Ohio State senior guard Kelsey Mitchell, there is only so much a coach can contribute. Head coach Kevin McGuff said the prolific scorer has worked to improve her defense this offseason. But he believes Mitchell’s experience traversing the world with USA Basketball will benefit her as much as any specific on-court improvements.
Mitchell, a two-time Big Ten Player of the Year, won a gold medal with the Women’s Under-23 National Team in the Four Nations Tournament in Tokyo, Japan, in mid-August. Then, she was invited to the 2017 USA Women’s National Team Training Camp, which was held from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2 in Santa Barbara, California. Mitchell was one of just five college players among the 30 invitees.
“It kind of broadened her horizons a little bit and I think any time you get new experiences and have success with it like she did, you can only come out of there with more confidence,” McGuff said during Ohio State women’s basketball media day Tuesday.
Ohio State counted on Mitchell to be its primary source of offense last year, and will rely on her offensive prowess again this season. The 5-foot-8 guard led the Big Ten with 22.9 points per game, led the team with 115 3-pointers made and assisted a team-high 137 buckets last season. Mitchell has made the most 3s in Big Ten history.
But with so many skilled players at the training camp and on the Under-23 National Team, Mitchell learned to take a step back on offense.
“When you go and you play on a USA basketball team, you have to play with so many great players, it’s certainly a different role than what you would have here,” McGuff said. “I just think that was really good for her and what it would mean for us this year, and really good for her and what it means for her future as she moves on to play professional basketball next year.”
Mitchell said she spent more time playing off the ball than she usually does for Ohio State and learned how to play in different positions on offense, rather than just dominating the ball. The score-first guard said she now feels more comfortable playing with Buckeye guards Linnae Harper, Sierra Calhoun and Asia Doss when they have the ball on offense.
Mitchell was able to play with 25 WNBA players at the training camp, but she spent more time learning from the coaching staff.
“I did get a chance to talk to [four-time Olympic gold-medal winner] Sue Bird and all those vets, but I really picked [USA Women’s National Team and South Carolina head coach] Dawn Staley’s brain because she had been through it, she know what it’s like,” Mitchell said. “So her being around, being our coach throughout the course of the three days, she helped me a lot in regard to what guards need to see even before it happens, how to play, how to pick things apart, and how to be a good teammate.”
Just a little more than a week into training camp, McGuff has already witnessed Mitchell’s progress.
“She’s playing fast as ever, because that’s what we expect of her,” McGuff said. “At the same time, kind of maybe even has a little better feel for when to slow down and execute and make sure everybody else is where they’re supposed to be and make sure everybody else is involved.”
Mitchell said USA Basketball placed an emphasis on the defensive side of the ball and she brought the intensity on that side of the court to the Buckeyes. McGuff, Mitchell and other players said improved defense would be key to Ohio State’s season when they spoke at media day Tuesday afternoon.
Mitchell was joined by Harper on the Under-23 National Team. Harper, who was named Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year last season, was a late addition to the team as the redshirt senior replaced South Carolina forward A’ja Wilson, who missed the Four Nations Tournament with a groin strain.
“Linnae is playing really hard, still one of the best defensive players and rebounding perimeter players in the country, something that they emphasize with her at USA Basketball,” McGuff said. “So that probably just kind of extenuated on the positives that she already has.”
Mitchell and Harper will be able to showcase the improvements they made in the offseason when Ohio State opens the season against Stanford at 6 p.m. Nov. 10 at St. John Arena as part of Countdown to Columbus.