WNBA star Kelsey Mitchell and WNBA draftee Taylor Mikesell never crossed paths in college. Mitchell, a star from Cincinnati, Ohio, took the Ohio State women’s basketball program by storm, earning the No. 2 pick in the 2018 WNBA Draft.
A few months later, Mikesell began a five-year collegiate career that stretched from Maryland to Oregon and back to her home state of Ohio. For the last two years of that run, Mikesell lit up the Buckeyes' perimeter, leading Ohio State to their first Elite Eight appearance in 30 years.
Monday at the 2023 WNBA Draft, Mikesell heard her name called with the first selection of the second round. Entering the league as the No. 13 pick, Mikesell joins a young Indiana Fever team led by none other than Mitchell.
With only 12 teams of 12 players though, the top domestic women’s professional league has space for only 144 players. Monday night, 36 players were drafted. Last season, 14 of the 36 didn’t make it to a WNBA regular season game. That means Mikesell has a chance to not play a game in the regular season with Mitchell.
WNBA teams don’t shy away from the fact that not everyone drafted will make it.
“Training camp should be competitive. Especially in a reload mode that we’re in,” said Indiana Fever general manager Lin Dunn. “I want fighting for positions and I want them to come back hungry, starving, for that position so I think we set that tone tonight.”
From now until May 18, when teams are required to make final roster decisions, Mikesell will battle to show the Fever that she’s worth not only a spot on the team but time on the court. It’s been five years since Mitchell faced that challenge, but she still remembers it well.
“She (Mitchell) talks about how hard that year was a rookie,” said Indiana Fever head coach Christie Sides. “We talked the other day, she was like ‘coach, I just want to make sure that people have a great experience’ so I think she’s going to take that role and make sure these guys that are coming in, she’s going to help them, teach them, show them what that looks like to be a pro.”
In the hours leading up to one of the biggest moments of Mikesell’s basketball career, Mitchell was already investing in Mikesell, not knowing that in a few hours, they’d become teammates. It’s part of Mitchell’s mission to invest in the younger generation of players. Especially considering the success rate of draftees to the WNBA.
Mikesell was part of a group of 15 players invited to the draft itself. Included in the trip to the Big Apple were public events, including a trip up the Empire State Building. Part of that trip was Mitchell, as an ambassador for a group of people who would soon become her peers. It was in that hectic day that Mikesell used to start her process of becoming a professional basketball player.
“Very excited to play with her (Mitchell) and just to pick her brain a little about the league and just her journey through the W,” said Mikesell. “I got to talk with her a little bit today and she gave some advice to enjoy the moment and just keep being me.”
It’s simple enough advice, but important. At this point, Mikesell and 35 other players have new teammates, coaches, and systems and a substantial increase in difficulty on the court. That combined with close to a 50/50 chance at making it to the final roster and some players might try to do everything, including those things they aren’t skilled at, in an attempt to impress.
In Mikesell’s case, she admitted following her selection that she’s not the most athletic player on the court. There are players taller than Mikesell and she can’t do everything her teammates and opponents can do. Dunn and the Fever like Mikesell being herself.
“I don’t know anyone that shoots the ball faster off the pass than Taylor Mikesell,” said Dunn. “She’s going to be very challenging to defend.”
Q2 | @TMikesell23's bread and butter - that's THREE triples already!#GoBucks pic.twitter.com/6G9yL5qNr4— Ohio State WBB (@OhioStateWBB) March 20, 2023
Even as the NCAA moved the women’s three-point line back 16 inches for the 21-22 season, Mikesell kept shooting. The guard actually got better as the sport as a whole dipped 16% in made three-point shots. Mikesell led the NCAA in efficiency with 47.5%.
Now, the hard work ethic that Mikesell said she learned from her dad as a kid, and on the court at optional Sunday practices at Jackson High School will be what Mikesell hopes gets her a spot not only as a WNBA draftee but a WNBA player.
“That’s something I’ve always liked to pride myself on, my shooting ability,” said Mikesell. “But I’m excited to get to Indiana and do that, just be me, basically.”
Should that advice work for Mikesell, there will be a lot more for Mitchell to share this season and beyond.