Lailani Mitchell is regarded as one of the top point guards in the nation.
Jan. 4, 2008
By Deanne Stevenson, sports information student assistant
University of Utah women's basketball player Leilani Mitchell is ready to get this season going. After sitting out the 2006-2007 season due to NCAA transfer rules, Mitchell is excited for what this year has in store.
The Mountain West Conference coaches may have been dead on when they named Mitchell as the league's top newcomer coming into the season. The Utes have played two exhibitions games and Mitchell has already proven to be an outstanding and vital player for this year's team. She tallied double-doubles in both games, averaging 10 points and 10.5 assists per game.
Mitchell is a humble player and attributes her success to everyone but herself.
"I think my success has come from many different areas," Mitchell said. "I have been blessed with some natural abilities, but also I was fortunate enough to have some great coaches over my career. And of course, I have been able to play with some great players."
Mitchell also credits her love of sports to her five brothers. As the only girl in her family, her brothers made sure she was competitive. It was in the driveway with her brothers that she started playing basketball. They spent a lot of time outside playing basketball, but football and home-run derbies were always in the rotation. Mitchell said her brothers never took it easy on her because she was a girl.
"They used to put boxing gloves on me and the neighbor boy and make us fight," Mitchell said. "I had to be tough in order to play with them, so that definitely helped me become competitive. I don't think we ever finished a game without somebody getting upset."
Mitchell's aggressiveness has paved the way to her success. After her high school career, Mitchell was listed as one of the west coast's premiere point guards by Street & Smith's magazine. As one of the top players for the University of Idaho, Mitchell was named honorable mention All-American by the Associated Press and the WBCA in 2005-2006. She also led the WAC and ranked second in the nation in steals in 2005-06, averaging 4 per contest. Mitchell was also ranked 18th nationally in assists, averaging 5.6 per contest. Among her many awards, perhaps the most impressive was being named as one of the 11 finalists for the Nancy Lieberman Award, given to the nation's top point guard.
"I chose Utah because it is a well-established program," Mitchell said. "The coaching staff is very knowledgeable and Coach (Elaine Elliott) has always been successful. I could get everything I needed here, both basketball and school-wise."
Mitchell said that last year was a good learning experience for her. It was a difficult adjustment to practice, but not get to play. However, she said it was also very beneficial as she got to learn Utah's program and the players.
"It has me allowed to step right in and know what is expected of me," Mitchell said.
And she is doing just that. Her teammates and coaches named Mitchell as one of this year's captains and Mitchell is doing everything she can to be there for her teammates both on and off the floor. She says that as a captain, it is important to be a leader by example. That means that every possession, every drill, every practice, and every game Mitchell has committed to work hard and demand the best performance -- not only from herself, but from her teammates as well.
Mitchell has a lot of expectations in her final year of collegiate basketball. She wants this year to be her most successful season.
"Everyone wants to go out with a bang and playing in the NCAA tournament has always been a dream of mine," Mitchell said. "I realize that it won't just happen. We have to work hard and continue to learn and get better every day."
Starting last spring, the team made a commitment to each other to stay over the summer and work out together. Mitchell said seeing that commitment come to fruition not only helped the team's individual fitness levels, but their team chemistry as well.
"Our team looks good so far," Mitchell said. "We all want to get better. that drive and competitiveness will, hopefully, allow us to get where we want."
Winning the Mountain West Conference title is one of the Utes' goals for this year, along with finishing in postseason play. But Mitchell realizes they have to take it one day at a time.
For now, she is just enjoying her time as a Ute and is glad that she chose to finish her college career at Utah.
"It's a lot different from my past experiences, but I really enjoy it," Mitchell said. "I've learned so much about basketball and also about relationships and how to go about certain situations. When I came on my visit, E (head coach Elaine Elliott) said it would be a two-year adventure for me. And it has been exactly that. We've done some fun things together as a team, away from the basketball court. Over the summer we had some free time and we got to go up in the mountains and experience that side of Utah. I've really come to like it here. It has already been more than what I hoped for. I just wish I had more than one year."