THE Australian basketball system has been producing talent of extreme high quality over the last few years, with plenty of Aussie graduates either choosing to stay and compete in the nation’s high quality domestic competitions such as the WNBL, or some opt to head overseas for potentially greener pastures.
The development of female basketball in Australia has seen many locals head into the biggest league of them all in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) in the United States, with a large number having a level of success during their tenure. This number is only going to increase as success stories continue to emerge, and one of these stories is Leilani Mitchell.
Mitchell is currently one of Australia’s most popular female basketball players from the last decade, having forged a remarkable career both domestically and internationally, despite being born overseas. As she comes to the twilight of a decorated journey, Mitchell will likely be considered one of the finest our nation has ever produced.
Mitchell was actually born in Washington in the United States, and claimed dual citizenship due to her father being from America, while her mother was Australian. She began her basketball journey at a young age, building an impressive resume throughout her schooling.
Mitchell attended the University of Idaho for her career in the NCAA, where she quickly rose to national prominence thanks to some handy work on both ends of the floor. Her skills only grew throughout this time, as she developed impressive court vision to go with her explosive scoring and pest-like defensive work.
By the time she finished her college career, she was one of only six players to record 2,000 points, 500 rebounds, 500 assists and 300 steals during her time in the NCAA Division I competition. Having graduated, her sights were set on making the WNBA, where she was selected with the 25th pick in the 2008 draft.
Mitchell was selected by the Phoenix Mercury, but shortly after was traded to the New York Liberty, where her popularity grew thanks to her ferocious attack on the ball and fearlessness around the court. She quickly showed her worth as one of the league’s most impressive youngsters.
2010 saw a breakout year for Mitchell, who won the league’s Most Improved Player, with multiple 20 point games, and a significant increase in averages across the board. By this stage, she had become one of the players to watch, especially with her shooting from downtown, as she led the league in three-point percentage.
Throughout the next decade, Mitchell was a handy contributor, but did not reach the heights of her breakout season, as she spent time on a number of teams throughout this time. However, she did experience another impressive campaign in 2019, where she became the first player in either the NBA or the WNBA to win the Most Improved Player award twice, as she notched a double-digit points average for the first time in her career.
Since 2013, Mitchell has frequently participated in Australia’s WNBL competition, and in 2020, led the Southside Flyers to a championship in the Townsville bubble. Mitchell frequently showcased her connection to Australia, including an appearance as an Opal in the Tokyo Olympics.
As her career looks closer to finishing than beginning, Mitchell can be proud having produced a basketball journey that made both Australia and the United States proud.