The Indiana Fever and toughness are synonymous. The 2012 champions are the definition of a gritty, grind-it-out team that has no problem clawing its way to victory. This old-school style of play arrived in Indiana the moment the Fever drafted Tamika Catchings with the third overall pick in 2001. Catchings is a legend in the WNBA, but she means even more to the Fever franchise.
“Catch” is a 10-time All-Star, five-time First Team All-Defense selection, and was the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2011. She has immortalized herself amongst the greats, but like every star before her eventually has to call it quits. This season will be her swan song. As Catchings relinquishes her title of emotional leader for the Fever, the squad will look to the next generation to introduce the new wave of no-nonsense basketball in the great Midwest. That process started on Draft night with the selection of guard Tiffany Mitchell.
The Fever nabbed Mitchell with the ninth overall pick, and she brings with her a resume full of accolades from her four years the University of South Carolina. Although her trophy case may already be full, it’s the intangible gifts she brings to the floor that make her a perfect fit the Fever and their system.
“The called me Tough-any at South Carolina — that’s definitely my mantra,” Mitchell said after finding out where she would be continuing her basketball career.
It’s a fitting nickname for the 5-9 guard who brought the South Carolina program to national prominence under the tutelage of head coach Dawn Staley. Staley was the was the picture of resiliency during her 10-year WNBA career. A Philadelphia native, Staley played with the same sort of reckless abandonm as another hard-nosed Philadelphia guard, Allen Iverson. She was willing to sacrifice her body for the greater good of the team, and became the emotional leader of any roster she was on. Now, she brings that same sort of passion to the sidelines at South Carolina, and imparts that kind of will to win on her players.
“I’m really close with coach Staley, so I know she’s going to keep it real with me when no one else will,” said Mitchell. “She’s going to tell me what I want to hear and also what I don’t. She’s been through the whole process, she’s an Olympian, she’s won it all. She’s just going to continue to be a great mentor for me.”
Mitchell will benefit immensely from having Staley in her corner as she will have to balance handling the fanfare of Tamika’s last hoorah with finding her role in a team that made the WNBA Finals last season.
One way she can make an immediate impact is by being a sponge and learning everything she can from Catchings. Lesson one will certainly be making sure that “Tough-any” doesn’t lose her edge in the pro game. But she’s already entering her schooling with a serious head start. Indiana is the perfect place for Tiffany Mitchell to learn.