Opponents come and go, the arenas change, but nothing breaks her stride. The adulation falls upon her, but it doesn’t weigh her down. The world keeps spinning, and Kelsey Mitchell just keeps on playing.
“Never get too high, never get too low,” she says, perched on a bench in the nearly empty Schottenstein Center on a chilly February morning. “I just let things take care of themselves.”
She’ll repeat this phrase frequently during our conversation, a seemingly strange mantra for one of the most dominant players in the history of the Ohio State basketball program. But for Mitchell, being the best just comes naturally.
By day, she’s a humble 22-year-old junior, majoring in Sports Business and doing her best to take advantage of the educational opportunity she’s been afforded. But for the 5’8” guard, those days also usually include grueling hours in the gym and on the court, not to mention time studying film and preparing for her next game.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t be able to do things like this if I didn’t take being a student as seriously as I take being an athlete,” she says, modestly. “I’m really grateful for the opportunity—opportunities like this don’t come around very often. It’s amazing.”
Growing up in Cincinnati, surrounded by a loving and athletic family, Mitchell took to sports almost from the time she could walk. When her older twin brothers started playing in basketball rec-leagues, her parents could barely keep the young girl off of the court. Her father Marc, now one of her coaches at OSU, eventually relented, letting young Kelsey out to run with the big boys. Turns out, she could hang, even from the start.
She latched onto the game and never looked back. Mitchell would eventually become Princeton High School’s all-time leading scorer, racking up numerous regional and national High School Player of the Year awards and becoming a First Team All-American, all while keeping up a 3.86 GPA. Impressive, but the good was still to come.
Mitchell has made an incredible habit of doing her absolute best, resulting in one of the finest careers any Buckeye athlete has ever experienced. She racked up a jaw-dropping 29 school or NCAA records during her first year at OSU, in addition to being the best scorer in the nation during her first year playing at that level. Sophomore year, she broke some of those records and set a few more for good measure. Mitchell was named as a First Team All-American both years, and she recently became the fastest player in NCAA Basketball history to score 2,000 points, female or otherwise. Some days, it seems like the only thing that could put an end to her supremacy would be running out of records to break.
She’s also affable, courteous and polite as can be. It’s noticeable that she’s not craving attention, despite earning so much of it by frequently leading the team in points, assists, steals, blocks, and, well, just about everything. Her singular goal is to play the best game of basketball she can. But unlike other players who may spread themselves too thin or never truly find their niche aspect of the game, Mitchell simply dominates them all.
“A lot of people just talk about points or whatever, but that’s changed for me. I want to be one of those people that can do all sorts of things, offensively and defensively. I try to just go out to play and let everything take care of itself,” she repeats.
This is not to say she’s not giving it her all every night, quite the opposite—Mitchell understands that she can’t always control the environment around her, and that’s okay.
“If your work ethic is through the roof, everything else will take care of itself. But you’ve got to be prepared to want it—to practice; so that when you get in the game time situation, you can handle it. If you go in for a test and you didn’t study, you can’t get mad if you fail.”
That may be the secret to her success. She doesn’t bring any outside baggage into the game, just plenty of talent.
Mitchell still wears #3 in honor of her brother, as well as other legendary guards that influenced her style, such as Allen Iverson. Both brothers went on to briefly play professional basketball internationally, and Kelsey’s own twin sister, Chelsea also currently plays for the Buckeyes. For Kelsey, family is the biggest driving force in her life, and one of the reasons she stayed in her home state for collegiate career.
“I just really wanted to be where my family was, they’re the most important people,” she says. “Every time I go home for Christmas break or anything, we play as much as we can. Sports have always been big for my family, and we just support each other as much as possible, on and off the court.”
Her strong familial ties have kept her very modest, and she uses her extraordinary circumstances, like traveling with the team, as motivation to become not just a better basketball player, but a better human being as well.
“I do it for the people that never get the chance to do it,” she says. “You see kids that don’t have the right support or maybe never get a chance to try rec-leagues or be around sports. I realize that if it weren’t for playing on this basketball team, if I didn’t have my scholarship here, I never would have seen Brazil or the Virgin Islands. It gives you so much to be grateful for. I want to be one of those people that makes the most of it.”
Making the most of it is certainly one way to describe what she’s doing. Mitchell does have the benefit of a solid supporting cast helping to rack up the victories, but she’s by far the most domineering. While many of her fellow players put in extra hours of preparation for this month’s NCAA Tournament, the grand finale to the basketball season and the potentially make-or-break event for many collegiate athlete’s professional aspirations, the stoic Mitchell knows that it’s her laser-like focus and inexhaustible work ethic that got her to this position in the first place.
“In general, it’s always one of the best times of the year, to be a part of that atmosphere is a great thing because you get to show off everything you’ve worked so hard for,” she says. “You get to play against other great teams and yourself, it’s really important. But you have to play well to even make it into the NCAA tournament, so you have to play every game like it could be your last.”
Despite the fact that she’s now WNBA-eligible, and most experts believe she would easily be the number one pick in the draft, Mitchell’s modest approach to life won’t let her get in over her head.
“Any opportunity given to me, I’ll take. If the man above has a plan for me to do something at the next level, then I’ll do it, of course. But I never try to get too far ahead, I just stay in the moment and go day by day.”
As modest in person as she is authoritative on the hardwood, Kelsey Mitchell just lets some things take care of themselves.