Tiffany Mitchell

Tiffany Mitchell's pursuit of perfection

© Athletes Unlimited, LLC 2024 / Credit: Jade Hewitt Media
Savanna Collins
Mar 08, 2024

Basketball is a game often measured in percentages — field goal percentage, true shooting, free throws made. While no one is expected to hit every shot or drain every three, Tiffany Mitchell has always chased the impossible: 100%. Perfect.

I’m never satisfied,” Mitchell explained. “Even if I make 30 points, I’m thinking about the one shot that I missed. I could have had 32 points.”

This has been the calling card of her eight-year journey in the WNBA. Mitchell has had stability and longevity, two things many trying to earn one of the 144 spots in the W desperately covet. Drafted to Indiana in 2016, Mitchell played seven seasons with the Fever until being traded to the Minnesota Lynx for the 2023 season. This upcoming year she’s headed to the Connecticut Sun after another trade.

All those years in one place, Mitchell never let familiarity lead to stagnation. Even though she suited up with the same name across her chest year after year, those seasons are each marked drastically different for No. 25.

“You have to be willing to accept certain things and roles that are thrown at you,” Mitchell said. “There’s teams that I played on and played 30 minutes a game, and there’s teams that I played on where I played five minutes a game. Being a competitor, those games where you’re playing five or less minutes is very hard to still wake up and want to keep getting better.”

The mental strength required of a pro is a lesson the fresh-faced South Carolina grad could never know stepping into her rookie season. She would learn over time as teammates were signed and traded, coaches hired and fired, that the thing she could control was her.

“I still got to be the first one in the gym, last one out… constantly evolving,” Mitchell said.

Built in Columbia, S.C.

Mitchell’s foundation when she stepped in to be a major contributor as a rookie in 2016 was a firm one. She left South Carolina as one of the most decorated players in program history, making more starts and playing in more games than any Gamecock. She earned the University of South Carolina President’s Award, the highest annual award bestowed on a student-athlete, honoring achievement in athletics, academics and community outreach.

She’s in the books as fifth in Gamecock history with 1,885 points and 234 steals, and second in program history in both three-point shooting (39.9%) and free throw shooting (77.3%). She holds seven single-season school records, including three-point percentage (.541 in 2013-14) and free throws made (157 in 2013-14) and free throw percentage.

It was clear if Mitchell couldn’t be perfect, she was going to be the closest one to it.

Becoming uniquely valuable

In her near-decade as a pro, Mitchell said each year she’s strived to “put something else in her toolbox.”

While in the system of a traditional team, it’s not often she gets to flash all the skills she’s built up over time but at Athletes Unlimited Pro Basketball it’s what made her a standout player in Week One and catapulted her to the top of the leaderboard. She showcased how she can make an impact on both ends.

“Defense isn’t that flashy. [When] people come to the games, they want to see the offensive scoring, the fast pace, but you also need those players who can lock those people down so the fact that I feel like I’m able to do both is very hard to come by,” Mitchell reflected.

Mitchell is third in the league in points made and steals. She can drive hard to the rim or pull up from long range.

“Two-way players sometimes get looked over because they do take so much pride in their defense… I hate getting scored on. It happens but I’m trying my hardest to not get scored on, but also still be effective offensively.”

Within the AU Pro Basketball scoring system, all the effort that might get overlooked is rewarded in the points system from grinding for steals and boards to the flashiness of hitting a three. Of all athletes with 10 or more attempts, Mitchell had the best three-point shooting percentage sinking 7-of-12. Her three-point shooting was a misconception she was eager to correct.

Mitchell wants it known that it’s not that she can’t shoot the three, it’s that it wasn’t expected or asked of her on most of her previous teams. She was tasked with getting downhill while other teammates spread the floor.

“As you see here, I’m a lot more comfortable, a lot more free to kind of just do what I’ve been doing my whole life. I’ve been in the gym 24/7, so it’s not that I can’t shoot ’em, it’s just being confident and knocking ’em down.”

Perfecting Perfectionism

A journey through the lens of perfectionism can be a challenging one. While it’s pushed Mitchell to excellence she exudes it’s also hindered her in the past.

“You have those days where you question if what you’re doing [is] enough,” Mitchell said through tears. “I’m always harping on what I’m not doing and not realizing the path that I’ve taken, how much that I’ve actually accomplished along the way, and just letting myself experience some grace and not being so hard on myself all the time.”

It’s what’s made this past week at AU Pro Basketball so sweet. A different setting, a different stage where Mitchell could step into the limelight in a way she never has before.

“This past week for me has been amazing, just knowing that I’m able to show people this is really who I’ve been.”

Previously, she might have defined perfect as never making a mistake. Now, it changes every day.

“If I try to reach and chase after perfection, greatness is somewhere in the distance,” Mitchell explained. “I just try to focus on one part of something that I’m going to work on or lock in on and try to perfect that day and whatever that is in that moment and then along the way, I’ll just keep building on that.”

Her emotions were fueled by all the hours spent no one saw. The injuries she pushed to overcome, sometimes relearning to jump or even walk. The hard conversations with her family confronting what it will take from her to not only maintain a spot on a WNBA roster but thrive.

“People who know me know this has always been Tiffany. She’s always been one of the hardest workers. She’s always spent time in the gym. I’m just getting that opportunity now and to show everybody.

“Seven years of Indy, one in Minnesota, traded to Connecticut. All of that is a part of my book and I’m still writing my story. So stay tuned.”


Savanna Collins is the Senior Reporter at Athletes Unlimited. You can follow her on Twitter @savannaecollins.

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