On The Court with Leilani Mitchell

By Shayna Calandro, Liberty Intern

"Basketball is a male sport." "You aren't tall enough to play." These are just a couple statements that New York Liberty player, Leilani Mitchell, has heard and proven wrong. The 5 foot 5 inch Washington native point guard is a ball of fire on and off the court. After a recent Liberty practice I sat down with Leilani and got the inside scoop about her early life, the highs and lows of her basketball career, her pre game rituals and more!

Being the only girl of six children, Leilani grew up as a tomboy. "Sports were all I knew," she explained as she went in depth of her childhood. She expressed that her mother would lock the door on summer days and she and her brothers would play outside for hours with their neighborhood friends. Once she entered Kennewick High School, she made the girls' basketball team where they won a state 4A title. She then chose to go to the University of Idaho to continue her basketball career. Leilani shared, "It was close to home so I got to go back on the weekends and holidays. A lot of people from high school went there and actually my high school coach was the assistant, so it was all family there."

But family wasn't enough to keep Leilani in Idaho all four years. After her junior year, she decided to transfer to the University of Utah. Not so much familiarity was in Utah. "I didn't know one person, and I only got to go home on the holidays. I definitely grew up a lot in Utah. The school was really good and I liked it," the Washingtonian stated.

The decision she made to transfer turned out to be a good one. Leilani was drafted by the Phoenix Mercury in the 2008 WNBA Draft. Shortly after they selected her, she was traded to the New York Liberty where her WNBA journey took off. Loree Moore, Liberty point guard at the time, suffered a back injury during a game and Leilani was 'thrown into the fire' so to speak, to replace her. This was Leilani's first starting appearance in a professional game.

"I was nervous at first, but I loved it. I loved the experience," Leilani expressed.

Just two seasons later, Leilani became the official starting point guard for the Liberty. Her favorite memory thus far is the 2010 playoffs. With an overjoyed glow and smile on her face, Leilani explained "It was the playoffs, we were in the Garden, and it was sold out. Just being out on the court in front of all the fans, in The World's Most Famous Arena, it was just awesome to me."

But none of those games would've been the same without Leilani's routines of a pregame nap and putting her left sneaker on before the right. She doesn't consider herself superstitious but says those are definitely her pregame habits.

Now, during the Olympic break, Leilani and the rest of the Liberty team are "staying in shape but not killing their bodies." They play all year round so any break is appreciated, Mitchell says.

If Leilani didn't become a professional basketball player, she thinks she would be coaching somewhere. Although she went to school for elementary education, she realized that isn't what she wants to do any longer. Her heart is in the game and would love to coach if she couldn't play.

Lastly, for all the young aspiring professional athletes out there, Leilani advises you to keep working hard! The starting point guard says "When you're younger, its AAU basketball and tournaments every weekend, even when you want to hang out with your friends. Just make that sacrifice and stay focused."