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WNBA relishes Kelsey Mitchell’s ‘overdue’ All-Star moment

In her sixth season with the Fever, Kelsey Mitchell is playing in her first WNBA All-Star Game. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS — Now is the time for Kelsey Mitchell.

It’s been time. The entire WNBA has seen it. But now after six seasons, Mitchell’s game will be on full display for her first WNBA All-Star Game.

“This is an overdue All-Star for her,” Liberty guard Courtney Vandersloot said. “She’s been at an All-Star level since she got into the league.”

Yet as Indiana continues to find itself, Mitchell has remained firmly under the radar.

WNBA players are tired of it.

“I think she’s underrated because maybe a lot of people don’t know about her,” Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale said. “But if you’re in the league, you know exactly what Kelsey is bringing. She’s one of the best guards in this league.”

Mitchell is averaging 16.7 points and three assists per game for the Fever this season. She also leads her team in minutes, playing 33 per contest.

The Fever have been in a rebuild for as long as Mitchell has been in the WNBA, drafting her with the No. 2 pick in 2018. She’s served as a building block as the team attempts to break a six-year playoff drought and climb back into contention. So far this year, Indiana is 5-15. That’s nowhere near where they want to be, but it does equal their wins total for the 2022 season and includes several close calls, like an overtime loss to the Liberty on Wednesday.

In every contest — whether a win, close loss or a blowout — one thing remains the same: The opposing defense is locked in on Kelsey Mitchell.

“Scouts make a different game plan for Kelsey every time we play,” teammate Aliyah Boston said. “They know she’s a killer. She shoots the ball at a high clip, and she’s an explosive guard as well. Teams know they have to prep for her in a different way than they might other people.”

Teammates and opponents know how talented Mitchell is, but there’s a disconnect outside the league.

In this season’s All-Star voting, Mitchell was ranked 10th by fans and 13th by media members, but 5th by fellow WNBA players.

That’s not a Kelsey Mitchell problem; it’s a perception problem, according to Alyssa Thomas, another player who is no stranger to being underrated. Despite her three triple-doubles this season, Thomas was not voted an All-Star starter.

“I think coaches’ and players’ voting should carry more weight than anything,” Thomas said. “I mean, we’re the ones that go through it each and every day.”

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Mitchell has been a foundational player for the Fever during their rebuilding years. (Mollie Handkins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The current system gives fans 50% of the weighted vote, while media members account for 25% and coach and player votes account for the other 25%.

Attempting to defend Mitchell is all the evidence Thomas needs of her dominance.

“Having to guard her is not an easy task,” Thomas said. “She’s been on a team that is rebuilding, but her game has remained consistent. She’s able to score in various ways, and every time we play [Indiana], it’s very tough for us.”

Each season, Mitchell’s game evolves. And each season, she becomes better at being a pro.

Mitchell, 27, never allows herself to think she knows enough. Her career is a constant learning process, which is exactly how she’s approaching All-Star weekend. It’s a time to celebrate accomplishments, but Mitchell is also focused on how the experience can make her — and the Fever — better.

“It’s about enjoying the moment, taking it one day at a time, soaking up as much knowledge as we possibly can from other great basketball players,” she said, referencing teammate and fellow first time All-Star Boston. “Me and AB are going to take the opportunities where we can and be grateful and graceful.”

That mindset comes as no surprise to Mitchell’s college coach at Ohio State, Kevin McGuff. He spent four years begging Mitchell to take a day off and asking other staff members to help him get her out of the gym.

But for Mitchell, every moment that’s not spent improving is a moment wasted.

“She’s always been a real student of the game who wants to learn more and get better,” McGuff said. “It doesn’t surprise me that she’s still got that mindset. And I’ve seen incredible growth in her game, but there might be more to come. She will continue to find ways to get better.”

The biggest change he’s seen in Mitchell this season is the way she controls the game.

“She’s one of the fastest players I’ve ever seen where the ball comes with her,” McGuff said. “She can play so incredibly fast and still have command of the ball, which is an incredibly rare skill.”

He also sees Mitchell as “one of the most exciting players” in the WNBA, which is why her low rank in the fan and media voting surprised him.

But fellow WNBA players see what McGuff sees.

The respect from her peers means something to Mitchell, but she doesn’t put too much stock into it. Instead, the guard focuses on the same things she always has.

“No matter how many years I’m in the league, going against these great players, as grateful as I am, I just like to put the work in for the basketball part,” she said. “I’m grateful that they think of me that way. For me, it’s about making sure I’m doing everything I can for my team, and staying consistent in my work.”

That work ethic has been even more important this season as the Fever begin to turn a corner. There is also an increased amount of excitement around the team, thanks to the addition of young stars like Boston. And as the franchise finds its identity, Mitchell is the perfect piece to build around.

“When you’re building like that and bringing in young players, she is a great mentor,” McGuff said. “And as a coach, you want someone with the ball in their hands who is going to make everyone around them better.”

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Mitchell and Indiana rookie Aliyah Boston are both first-time All-Stars. (David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Her ability to lead extends back to her college program. Ohio State is coming off its first Elite Eight appearance since 1993, having gotten there by beating NCAA powerhouse UConn in the Sweet 16. Taylor Mikesell, one of the team’s stars from the tournament run, is now on a WNBA roster with the Dream, and the Buckeyes have two other potential WNBA players in Jacy Sheldon and Cotie McMahon.

As the program continues to rise, players can look to Mitchell as proof that being a Buckeye can lead to a successful WNBA career — even if it takes too long for that value to be formally recognized.

“We want our program to be known as a program that can develop people into being ready to go to the WNBA,” McGuff said. “So to see her having that success is a great reflection of our program.”

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

One former player contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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