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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.

Midge Purce-Backed Docuseries ‘The Offseason’ to Drop This Summer

cast of the offseason nwsl reality series
'The Offseason' follows a group of NWSL stars as they prepare for preseason play. (The Offseason)

The Offseason, a reality series created by Gotham and USWNT star Midge Purce, has officially confirmed its streaming debut, Purce announced in Cannes on Tuesday.

The six-episode, half-hour docuseries will stream this summer on X, though a specific premiere date hasn't yet been set.

The Offseason was filmed in Miami, two weeks before the NWSL preseason. It's a crucial time for athletes, a period where they prepare to join their respective teams and compete for both starting and roster spots. Production designed all the facilities, bringing in top-tier trainers, masseuses, chefs, and gym equipment to create a high-level training environment, ensuring the players were in peak condition, per the show's release. Throughout filming, athletes lived together in one house — a reality TV conceit rife for entertainment.

The series follows a number of NWSL stars, including Purce (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Maria Sanchez (Houston Dash), Lo’eau LaBonta (Kansas City Current), Michelle Alozie (Houston Dash), Taylor Smith (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Nikki Stanton (OL Reign), Ally Watt (Orlando Pride), Taryn Torres (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Paige Nielsen (Angel City FC), and Ify Onumonu (Utah Royals).

"We wanted to create a series that truly captures the essence of what it means to be a professional athlete," said Purce. "This series has always been about more than just sports — it's about the human experience behind the athlete, as well."

The show promises a behind-the-scenes look at professional women's sports, teasing major life decisions, on-field tensions, and players taking stock of the environments they'll be entering once their preseason trip is over. The series delves into the real-life challenges faced by the athletes, including club trades, contract negotiations, burnout, and the relentless pressure from outsiders commenting on the players' personal lives.

The Offseason's official trailer, released on Tuesday, shows snippets of Hubly contemplating retirement, Sanchez joining the group after signing a high-profile contract, and a healthy amount of banter about on-field achievements.

The spirit of the series is reflected in its producers: Box To Box Films is known for their sports content (Drive to Survive, Break Point, Full Swing), whereas 32 Flavors is the creative force behind Vanderpump Rules and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. The series was funded by Seven Seven Six, and executive produced by Purce.

Lilia Vu Wins Meijer LPGA Classic After Injury Return

lpga golfer Lilia Vu
Lilia Vu won in her first tournament in two months. (Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Lilia Vu won her fifth LPGA Tour event on Sunday, taking home the Meijer LPGA Classic title in her first tournament appearance since March. 

The World No. 2 had been sidelined with a back injury, but returned with a vengeance last weekend. She began the final day eight shots back of leader Grace Kim, before surviving a three-hole playoff against Kim and former champion Lexi Thompson to take the title. 

"I think this is the most meaningful win," Vu told reporters. "Because there was a time two months ago where I was just crying on the range not being sure if I would ever play a tournament again without pain."

This was Vu's first Meijer LPGA Classic win, and a birdie on the third playoff hole helped secure it. A two-time major champion, she's now two for three in LPGA Tour playoffs. 

She said on Sunday that being unable to defend her title at the Chevron Championship was the "breaking point" in her season.

"Not being able to compete there really killed me," she said. "I feel like I thought I was taking the steps in the right direction, but I’m glad that I was able to take a couple months off and reevaluate my body, let it recover, do what I needed to do to get back out here again.

"And we did the right thing and took two months off. I think it hurt me not to play competitive golf because I literally live for competitive golf, but we did the right thing and that’s why I’m here today."

Vu walked away with $450,000 in prize money from the $3 million overall purse.

Jabeur, Sabalenka Pull Out of Olympics Citing Health Concerns

tennis player Aryna Sabalenka
Aryna Sabalenka will not play in this year's Summer Olympics. (ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images)

Ons Jabeur and Aryna Sabalenka joined a growing list of tennis stars opting out of the Olympics on Monday.

Sabalenka, the reigning Australian Open champion and World No. 3, told reporters in Berlin that she was looking after her health while citing WTA tournament participation requirements. The Belarusian had struggled with a stomach bug during the French Open, where she lost in the semifinals of a major for the first time since 2022. 

Similarly, Jabeur referenced the health risks that come with a change in playing surfaces. The World No. 10 has been battling knee injuries this season, and lost in the French Open quarterfinals to Coco Gauff

"Especially with all the struggles I was having last month, I feel like I need to take care of my health… It’s too much with the scheduling," Sabalenka told reporters. "It’s just too much. I made the decision to take care of my health."

Players will spend the next few weeks playing on grass in the lead-up to Wimbledon, while the Olympics will be played on clay at Roland-Garros. 

"After consulting with my medical team regarding attending the Olympics in Paris, we have decided that the quick change of surface and the body’s adaptation required would put my knee at risk and jeopardize the rest of my season," Jabeur tweeted on Monday. "Unfortunately, I will not be able to participate in the 2024 Paris Olympics. I have always loved representing my country in any competition, However, I must listen to my body and follow my medical team’s advice."

The two join Emma Raducanu in opting out of the Olympics. Raducanu — who has dealt with a number of injuries since her US Open win in 2021 — said the change in surface was "not worth the risk."

Jaedyn Shaw Breaks NWSL Record for Most Goals Scored as a Teenager

Jaedyn Shaw of the san diego wave
Jaedyn Shaw is now holds the record for most NWSL goals as a teenager. (Julia Kapros-USA TODAY Sports)

Jaedyn Shaw continues to make NWSL history, surpassing Trinity Rodman for the most NWSL goals by a teenager on Saturday. 

She did it in a game against Rodman's Washington Spirit in the 20th minute of the 1-1 draw. It brings her total to 13 league goals, after making her NWSL debut at 17 years old in July 2022. 

The goal is her third this season. Shaw currently leads Wave alongside Makenzy Doniak. 

Shaw has also been a member of the USWNT, alongside Rodman, netting seven goals over 14 national team appearances. If she gets called up to this summer’s Olympics under Emma Hayes, it will mark her first official tournament with the USWNT.

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