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.”

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.”

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.

Alyssa Thomas, Elena Delle Donne and Napheesa Collier headline the 12 reserves who will compete at the 2023 WNBA All-Star Game. The reserves were announced on Saturday following a vote by WNBA head coaches. They will join the 10 All-Star starters — voted on by fans, media, and players — who were revealed last week.

2023 WNBA All-Star Game Reserves

  • DeWanna Bonner (Connecticut Sun)
  • Napheesa Collier (Minnesota Lynx)
  • Kahleah Copper (Chicago Sky)
  • Elena Delle Donne (Washington Mystics)
  • Allisha Gray (Atlanta Dream)
  • Sabrina Ionescu (New York Liberty)
  • Ezi Magbegor (Seattle Storm)
  • Kelsey Mitchell (Indiana Fever)
  • Cheyenne Parker (Atlanta Dream)
  • Kelsey Plum (Las Vegas Aces)
  • Alyssa Thomas (Connecticut Sun)
  • Courtney Vandersloot (New York Liberty)

Five players will make their All-Star debut in 2023: Gray, Magbegor, Mitchell and Parker, plus starter Aliyah Boston.

Sabrina Ionescu will make her second All-Star appearance thanks to the coach vote after she was ranked 19th amongst guards by her fellow players.

Of the reserves, Elena Delle Donne boasts the most All-Star Selections (nine), while Brittney Griner leads all All-Stars with nine.

While much fan and media attention is spent on comparing starters vs. reserves, that division becomes much less important once the All-Star game tips off. Both starters and reserves earn the “All-Star” label, playing time is typically divided more evenly than regular games, and there’s nothing to keep a reserve from being named All-Star MVP. Erica Wheeler (2019) was the most recent reserve to accomplish the feat.

All-Star captains A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart will draft their teams during a special WNBA All-Star selection show on Saturday, July 8 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN). The WNBA All-Star Game will be played at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday, July 15, with the game airing on ABC (5:30 p.m. PT/8:30 p.m. ET).

Also on Saturday, the WNBA confirmed that Las Vegas head coach Becky Hammon (14-1) and Connecticut Sun head coach Stephanie White (12-4) will serve as All-Star head coaches thanks to their records through June 30. Hammon will coach Team Wilson, while White will coach Team Stewart.

Aliyah Boston took to the court for her first official WNBA game on Friday night, but to Indiana Fever teammate Kelsey Mitchell, it didn’t seem like Boston was making her league debut.

“She’s not a rookie. She (doesn’t) have a rookie mindset,” Mitchell, a five-year WNBA veteran, said of the No. 1 overall draft pick.

“She’s going to compete, she’s going to give you everything she’s got. And whenever she’s not playing, she’s going to give you even more.”

Boston nearly recorded a double-double in the Fever’s 70-61 loss to the Connecticut Sun, scoring 15 points and recording nine rebounds at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. After trailing the Sun by 13 points, the South Carolina alum also helped mount a comeback. The Fever came within three points of the Sun with two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

After getting into foul trouble early in the game, Boston eventually fouled out with 45 seconds left.

“Aliyah is a competitor, she wants to win more than anybody in our locker room,” Indiana Fever Christie Sides said. “I told her from the beginning that she’s not going to get any calls. That’s just what happens to rookies.”

As if to illustrate Christie’s point, the person most critical of Boston’s WNBA debut was Boston herself.

“It wasn’t a successful rookie debut just because — no matter what my stats look like — it’s a team sport and we didn’t come out with the W.”

Boston added: “On this stage, I don’t really look at myself as a rookie. … I might be getting some rookie calls, though.”

Athletes Unlimited has confirmed the 44-player roster for its inaugural basketball season, with Kelsey Mitchell, Lexie Brown and Mercedes Russell among the final additions. The season is set to tip off Jan. 26 in Las Vegas.

Mitchell, the Indiana Fever’s leading scorer last season, earned a spot on the All-Rookie Team after being selected No. 2 overall in the 2018 WNBA Draft. Since then, she’s continued to elevate her game, finishing among the WNBA’s top-10 scorers each of the last two seasons. Before turning pro, the guard had a prolific career at Ohio State, graduating with the second-highest points (3,402) and most 3-pointers made (497) in NCAA history.

“I am honored and thrilled to be part of Athletes Unlimited’s inaugural basketball season,” Mitchell said. “AU offers women another opportunity to play professional basketball in the United States and will provide national television exposure that will help us grow the game we love to play.”

Brown and Russell join the league with a combined three WNBA titles in the last four years. Brown is a member of the 2021 WNBA champion Chicago Sky, while Russell won championships with the Seattle Storm in 2018 and 2020. AU players Essence Carson, Natasha Cloud and Jantel Lavender have also won WNBA championships.

“Athletes Unlimited is another great stage to showcase professional women’s basketball here in the United States and I cannot wait to compete both with and against so many talented players on a weekly basis during our inaugural season in Las Vegas starting January 26,” Brown said.

Imani McGee-Stafford announced her inclusion on the roster over the weekend. The 27-year-old center played four seasons in the WNBA from 2016-19 before taking the last two years off to attend law school.

The 31 players added to the roster on Tuesday join 10 who were previously announced, notably Courtney Williams and WNBA veterans Mikiah Herbert Harrigan and Carson.

Four players earned spots through the open tryouts in Atlanta in December. Becca Wann-Taylor will get an opportunity out of the University of Richmond, where she was a two-sport athlete in basketball and soccer. Joining her are Taj Cole, Briahanna Jackson and Takola Larry.

“We are very pleased with the diverse and dynamic Athletes Unlimited Basketball roster for our inaugural season,” said AU Director of Basketball Kristen Miles. “True to our intentions from the beginning, we are providing an additional opportunity for women to play professional basketball in the U.S., whether on a current roster or not. A whole new breed of women’s pro hoops is soon to be unleashed on Las Vegas, and these incredible athletes will surely make for a historic first season that can’t be missed.”

AU players Lavender and Tianna Hawkins will also serve on the player executive committee as the fourth and fifth members alongside Cloud, Sydney Colson and Ty Young.

The four-week basketball season runs from Jan. 26 to Feb. 26.

Full roster

  • Ciara Andrews, G
  • Antoinette Bannister, G/F
  • Kalani Brown, C
  • Lexie Brown, G
  • Kirby Burkholder, G
  • Marjorie Butler, G
  • DiJonai Carrington, G/F
  • Essence Carson, G
  • Brittany Carter, G/F
  • Natasha Cloud, G
  • Taj Cole, G
  • Sydney Colson, G
  • Drew Edelman, F
  • Nikki Greene, C
  • Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, F
  • Rebecca Harris, G
  • Isabelle Harrison, F
  • Tianna Hawkins, F
  • Ariel Hearn, G
  • Grace Hunter, G
  • Briahanna Jackson, G
  • Meme Jackson, G/F
  • Tyce Knox, G
  • Jessica Kuster, F
  • Takoia Larry, F
  • Jantel Lavender, F
  • Akela Maize, C
  • Lauren Manis, F
  • Danielle L. McCray, G/F
  • Danielle M. McCray, F
  • Imani McGee-Stafford
  • Laurin Mincy, G
  • Kelsey Mitchell, G
  • Chelsea Phillips, F
  • Toccara Ross, F
  • Tina Roy, G
  • Mercedes Russell, C
  • Odyssey Sims, G
  • Antoinette Thompson, G
  • Destinee Walker, G
  • Becca Wann-Tayor, G/F
  • Courtney Williams, G
  • Dominique Wilson, G
  • Ty Young, G/F