ATLANTA — Tiffany Mitchell and her fluorescent green Kobe sneakers were easy to spot at StateFarm Arena on Wednesday morning, even among the thousands of children in the stands decked out in neon orange, yellow and blue Camp Day t-shirts.
It was a familiar feel for the Indiana Fever guard — a South Carolina alumna (2012-16) and Charlotte native. Also in the stands were Mitchell’s mom, aunt and several friends who live in Atlanta.
“You know [you’re home] when you can smell the southern air,” Mitchell told Spurs & Feathers before the game. “I’m definitely happy that we’re close to home.”
Though Indiana (4-5) sits in eighth place in the 12-team WNBA, Mitchell, in her fourth season in the league, has been an offensive threat off the bench. She’s third on the team with 11.9 points per game.
She has also been a model representative for South Carolina as one of the five alumnae — including Alaina Coates, Allisha Gray, Kaela Davis and A’ja Wilson — in the league.
“She’s in that year where she’s got a really good rhythm of the games and the opponents,” Fever head coach Pokey Chatman said. “She’s experienced, so we trust that she can defend.”
In Atlanta against the Dream on Wednesday, Mitchell had a season-low four points on 1-of-9 shooting. She also had two rebounds and two assists.
“But she made some really good decisions, got inside the paint and had some good reads,” Chatman said. “It’s nice having that type of energy and someone like that who can contribute like that on both sides of the floor.”
Before the game, Mitchell spoke about her career at South Carolina and the growing number of Gamecocks in the WNBA. Mitchell was picked ninth overall by the Fever in 2016, a year that began a three-year stretch when the five Gamecocks were chosen in the first round.
“It’s great, having them come after me, just having that Gamecock camaraderie, and just knowing we have a lot of Gamecocks in the [WNBA], five, it’s a lot for one school,” Mitchell said. “After UCONN and Notre Dame, that’s one of the highest numbers we have in the league.
“We’re competitors on the court, but off the court we’re family. We’re always going to be family. That Gamecock blood runs within us.”
Though three other Gamecocks were drafted into the league before Mitchell, none remained when she made her debut.
“Just being able to start it off and set the bar, the Gamecock standard, that we do have people from South Carolina who can make it in the WNBA,” she said. “Just knowing I was one of the first to do that and have people come after me, it’s a great feeling.
“When they talk about the top programs and the top players in the league, they’re going to mention people that are from South Carolina, that’s for sure.”
Mitchell also spoke about playing for her childhood hero, Gamecock head coach Dawn Staley, and how playing with star players at South Carolina made it easier for her to adapt to the professional level.
“I based my game off being efficient and being consistent,” she said. “When you’re a guard in the WNBA you’re going to play with a lot of superstars and players who are probably better than you and you’re not going to have 20 shots. You’ve got to make the most of your time.”
Mitchell came off Wednesday’s game averaging 11.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. Though a small sample size, the points and rebound averages would be career highs if she finished the season with those numbers.
But Mitchell had a rough afternoon against Atlanta.
She checked in at the 4:22 mark of the first quarter and was called for a foul 28 seconds later. She missed her first shot, a jumper just inside the free-throw line. She snagged a rebound at the 1:16 mark but missed a wide-open layup on the ensuing end.
She was fouled on a hard drive moments later and swished two free-throws to give the Fever a 17-15 lead. But those were her only two points of the first half.
Her only make from the field came on a pullup jumper at the 7:36 mark of the fourth quarter. The basket cut the Fever’s deficit to 70-65, but Atlanta went on an 18-13 run to end the game.
Indiana’s leading scorer Wednesday was veteran Candice Dupree, who played for Staley when the latter coached Temple. “I always tell [Tiffany] that [South Carolina] was spoiled,” Dupree joked after the game. “They were coached a lot differently than we were.”
Mitchell was a three-time All-American at South Carolina and a two-time SEC Player of the Year. She also won the President’s Award, the highest annual award given to a Gamecock student-athlete for cumulative career accomplishments in academics, athletics, service and leadership.
Mitchell ranks among the program’s all-time top five in 10 career stats and is one of three Gamecocks to finish her career with at least 1,500 points, 300 assist and 200 steals.
“I think this is a great team,” Mitchell said of her current situation with the Fever. “I think we’re finding our rhythm now so I’m excited about the future.”
Does that future include a stint with Team USA and Staley (the team’s head coach) at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo?
“Olympics is always the goal,” Mitchell said. “We’ll see.”