"Me and AB had our own Shaq and Kobe vibe!": WNBA All-Star Kelsey Mitchell on teammate Aliyah Boston and more (Exclusive)
It seems understandable if Indiana Fever guard Kelsey Mitchell does not watch the WNBA Finals.
Not only has Mitchell already flown this week to Spain to play for her overseas team (Spar Girona), she may also develop FOMO considering the Fever failed to make the playoffs.
“I love seeing and competing because you learn a lot from it. But from a mental standpoint, I was more making sure that I was good,” Mitchell told Sportskeeda. “Sometimes when you get all into your sport, you kind of lose your mind. It was that for me.”
Before leaving for Spain, Mitchell spoke to Sportskeeda about various topics. That included why she considered it challenging to become a first-time WNBA All-Star, her chemistry with Indiana forward Aliyah Boston and what it will take for the Fever to reach the playoffs.
Editor’s note: The following one-on-one conversation has been edited and condensed.
How has the offseason treated you?
“It’s been a grind, still. I took a couple of days off to get my body to where it needs to be. But I was right back in it because I’m going overseas to play in Spain. So much for offseason.”
How long was the recharge and what did you do to get back into training?
“Honestly, just a couple of days. Not long at all. Not long enough. But just maintaining an area of strength and shock consistency. I completed layup packages to be able to make different type of layups. Not much recovery, but I’ll try. I’m embracing the training and embracing the grind because it’s tough and it’s hard. Some days are harder than others.”
What do you do that helps you embrace the grind?
“It’s a good question. I know my ‘why.’ I love the game and I’m willing to take the risk to become the greatest version of myself. I’m going to tap into that until I know my body can’t take it anymore and my mentals as well. I’m excited about where I can go. We’ll see if the training pays off.”
What does the greatest version of yourself look like?
“It’s a calm me. I’m not much of a talker. I’m a doer. So for me, it’s about maintaining that mentality. I want to put my head down and do the work. But it’s hard out here. If you don’t maintain the work part of it, life can be depressing. I don’t want that for myself.”
How does maintaining the work part help you not just for your development, but also with the mental part?
“I want to tap into a side that is so uncomfortable that I know what it feels like and I know how to handle it. Earlier, I lived it this week with my training. There was a lot of conditioning and lifting. When you get to where it’s tough, you want to know what that feels like. That’s the best part about the mentals. If you can get through that uncomfortable state, then comfortably you can be okay.”
How do you hope you can carry over your play last season into your overseas stint?
“My focus is carrying over my training into the games. I hope it pays off with seeing the game so that I can read and react based off of what teams give me. Defensively, I want to maintain my aggressiveness. I feel like I defended the ball really decently this year. I want to take it to another level. I want to learn. Through it all, I always remain the same soul and same person. That’s never going to change, no matter what.
What did it mean to become an All-Star this season for the first time in your career?
“Any competitor wants to make All-Star. That was something on my life. I was happy and grateful to have accomplished it. In retrospect, I learned a lot about myself. I went through one of the hardest years of my life trying to be an All-Star. I became an All-Star, and it felt like the worst thing ever. Be careful for what you wish for or ask for. As good as it seems, it’s tough sometimes mentally to keep going. You want people to know your worth. I had some ups and downs. I was excited about our team where we surprised a lot of people.”
Why was that the hardest year of your life?
“I think about maintaining a sense of calmness and confidence and knowing your worth and not wanting to feel underutilized, but also understand the team aspect of it. I think I played for my team. In the process, it can make my game look more polished as well. I enjoy playing basketball the way it’s supposed to be played. Sometimes you get so emotionally inclined that you want to maintain that focus without making it too personal.”
With becoming an All-Star, what did you learn from new teammates considering they were once your opponents?
“That part was a really great feeling. I got to learn about the other ladies on a different level. You go to appreciate them on such high levels, especially the ones that are in the playoffs now because the game is hard and tough. When you meet other All-Stars that you want to align with mentally, it’s such a good atmosphere to be around because you learn so much from them. I was excited about that. On the flipside, I learned a lot about my lifestyle and personal style. All-Star is a lot. The ability to always be criticized and critiqued about your game was a bittersweet feeling. I’m always critiqued and criticized for how I play and what I do with the losing aspect. Sometimes you’re not recognized on what it took to even get to that point. You have to maintain that sense of confidence.”
Which All-Stars in particular did you take a lot of good notes from?
“Nneka Ogwumike and Ezi [Magbegor]. We clicked really well. It was our first All-Star together, so we took in the experience really well. I got a chance to really understand Napheesa Collier from a motherhood standpoint. It was a really good experience getting to know her and her family and how she’s a mom in the league and still able to kill it. It was dope.”
What was it like playing against Aliyah Boston considering she’s usually your teammate?
“Oh, man. Me and AB had our own Shaq and Kobe vibe. I always love her and always want what’s good for her. With this being her first year, I could sense she was probably overwhelmed and she wanted to take the chance to decompress. I think AB responded so well that it doesn’t matter if I play against her serious or not serious, All-Star or not All-Star. AB is AB for a reason. I’ll always stick beside her.”
How did you see the chemistry with her unfold last season?
“It was dope. We got a chance to really connect early. So we were just doing open runs without the coaches around. I got a sense of where she wants the ball and how she plays and vice versa.”
Beyond both of your talents, why has the chemistry worked so well?
“You respect from where people come from and their journeys. Basketball is a universal language. It’s a love language. When you find people that are aligned and think like you, it’s easy.”
Coaches and teammates have credited you for becoming more of a vocal leader last season. What went into that?
“It was not about being vocal. It was more about my confidence and the leadership that I already had. Confidence can be a loud thing. It can be seen in a way. Your teammates feel your presence. I wanted that because I’ve always wanted to align myself with my teammates. I respect them so much. So it’s easier when you can tap into that relationship. I felt good about it down the stretch. It was pretty uncomfortable at first. It’s something I didn’t know that I had.”
What will it take for the Fever to return to the playoffs and have the success it once had?
“Man, it’s a good question. I think this year marked a lot of steps that we’ve taken as a program. As long as we keep our standard where it is based on how we played this year and how we battled through the course of games, the winning will come. We have to maintain a standard on where we want to be.”
Have you watched much of the WNBA playoffs?
“I love seeing and competing because you learn a lot from it. But from a mental standpoint, I was more making sure that I was good. Sometimes when you get all into your sport, you kind of lose your mind. It was that for me. I’ve watched some of the games. It’s basketball.
It’s interesting how players handle that. They all love to play and watch basketball, but sometimes FOMO kicks in for them.
“It can drive you crazy sometimes. I know you’ve seen it at the NBA level. I’m a mixture of both. At their highest point where they are now, you want to tap into the level that they are. They’re there for a reason.
Off the court, you were honored with the Dawn Staley Community Leadership award. What did that mean to you?
“It means a lot to me. I know why I play. With the youth, everything that you pour into them, that’s the future no matter what way you look at it. They’re going to be the ones that come next. So I want to be a resource at all times. I don’t want to close myself off.”
You founded the KelzHoop Foundation, which puts together basketball camps. You’ve also worked with the Cincinnati police department with giving out holiday gifts. What is it about those efforts that resonated with you?
“I come from a rough and rugged city. When you’ve been a part of it and you’ve seen it, I just hate that some of our kids don’t have the resources. They’re one step away from being what they want to be. But we watch them fold and turn to the streets. We want to do good with where we can with no gimmick behind it. We help with pay-to-play fees at the high school level. For kids that can’t afford to participate to play in sports, we pay for those. We build relationships through stuff like that. You appreciate that they acknowledge some of your successes. But they also know that you’re human. So they ask questions as any kid would. You get to know them on a personal level. That’s always fun.”