COLUMBUS – Kelsey Mitchell is her own harshest critic on the basketball floor.
Case in point: Mitchell was the first freshman to lead the nation in scoring average (24.9 points per game) last season for Ohio State women’s basketball program. But, she was more concerned about the team’s wins and losses.
That mentality has stayed consistent going back to her storied career at Princeton High School.
“She is always like that,” said Lakota East girls’ basketball coach Jill Phillips, who coached Mitchell at Princeton.
“That’s what makes her so fun to be around. She acts like she is not the best player on the court when in fact she is.”
So it’s no wonder the 2014 Ohio Ms. Basketball recipient carefully analyzed what she needed to do to improve for a Buckeyes’ team that reached the Big Ten final and lost to North Carolina in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“For her to impact us the way she did in Year One was really remarkable,” Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said Thursday afternoon.
Mitchell, a 5-foot-8 guard, scored a school and Big Ten single-season record 873 points her freshman season. She made an NCAA single-season record 127 three-pointers and set an NCAA single-season record with a three-pointer in 35 consecutive games.
Her adjustment to the pace, physicality, rules and more complex defenses last season was something McGuff isn’t sure he’s ever seen in his coaching career.
“When we signed her I knew she was a special talent,” McGuff said. “She’s been even better than I thought – if that’s even possible – because I thought she would be really good. More than anything, I had kind of a sense of urgency to try to put her in a position to play on teams that could compete nationally because that’s what she deserves with as good of a player as she is.”
Mitchell became stronger physically and mentally. She became more vocal. She improved her defense.
“She talks a little bit more now,” McGuff said. She’s got a great mind and a great feel for the game. I think she verbalizes some of those things to her teammates a little bit better.”
McGuff hopes everyone’s statistical averages will go down a bit this season – but for good reason. Ohio State, ranked No. 10 nationally in the USA Today preseason women’s basketball poll, is much healthier and experienced as a group entering this season.
The Buckeyes return all five starters and eight of its nine letterwinners from last season.
Last year, the Buckeyes entered the season with just four players on the roster who played in a collegiate game.
This early season Ohio State will utilize all of its experience. The Buckeyes open at No. 2 South Carolina Nov. 13 before hosting No. 1 UConn Nov. 16 in Columbus in front of an ESPN2 audience. It will be the first time UConn will play in Columbus.
McGuff would prefer not to play both teams in back-to-back games, but he knows the schedule is set and his players will be tested on the glass and defensively.
Mitchell is looking forward to the preparation against the two elite teams and says it will improve Ohio State regardless of the outcome.
“You get a chance to play against one of the top two greatest teams,” Mitchell said. “You take a challenge. You endure. You embrace it whether it’s win, lose or draw.”
Mitchell started all 35 games as a freshman and set a total of 29 single-season or single-game records in her first year at Ohio State.
A trip to Brazil this summer also helped with the Buckeyes get closer entering this season.
“I think our chemistry is through the roof,” said Mitchell, who was voted the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year by the coaches and the media.
Senior guard Ameryst Alston had a good rapport with Mitchell going back to when she initially signed with the Buckeyes. Alston said Mitchell is a fun teammate and makes others around her better.
“She’s funny,” Alston said. “She is quiet. She likes to joke around. She’s a fun person.”
Mitchell earned the respect of her teammates and those around the country last season. But, she isn’t satisfied. In the end, it’s all about preparation for Mitchell.
“Honestly, I think the mental me is much better” this season, Mitchell said.
Mitchell also likes to stay connected with those closest to her including family, friends, teammates and Phillips. And while she doesn’t make it back to Cincinnati that often, she enjoyed the opportunity this past summer for a brief time.
“I miss Cincinnati a lot,” Mitchell said.