Jun 29, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Indiana Fever guard Kelsey Mitchell (0) dribbles against the Phoenix Mercury during the second half at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into her sixth season with the Indiana Fever, Kelsey Mitchell is surrounded by young and promising players. The roster is packed with rookies, including 2023 first-overall pick Aliyah Boston, and only has two players with more than five years of WNBA experience — Mitchell and Erica Wheeler.

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Mitchell has always been a leader on the court. The 27-year-old is a go-to shooter and has led the team in scoring for the past four seasons, averaging 16.8 points per game. This season, first-year head coach Christie Sides has a different challenge for Mitchell.

Be a leader off the court, too.

"She'll see how to make shots, right? That's what she's really good at. That's what she's gonna do and we're empowering her and giving her confidence," Sides said. "We're gonna put her in a position that she's comfortable getting the ball. It's very obvious what Kelsey's role is on the basketball court to me, and that's who she's been for the last several years.

"For me, the off-court stuff is where Kelsey is being challenged because that will also help her on the court, as well with her teammates. Kelsey has always come in. She does exactly what is asked and does it to the best of her ability. I need her to be more of a presence in the locker room and, with these young players, to help bring them along. I told her, because she's always going to come in and get in an extra workout, I said, don't ever come alone. Find somebody. Bring them with you. And that helps them along the way."

Mitchell admits this is a new role for her. She understands an adjustment period is necessary.

"I don't wanna lie to you. It's been a true challenge. I'd be lying to you if I said it wasn't," she said. "For so long and for so much of your career, you're told to just do your job and put your head down and do the work. But when it comes to leadership, you have to bring others along with you. And it's something that I'm learning to express.

"I'll just take it as a work in progress. But it does feel good to be put in a position to lead the young ones and say let's all be on the same page. Let's do it together."

Mitchell, who was drafted second overall by the Fever in 2018, has yet to experience a winning season or a playoff game. Sides is her fourth coach. Those struggles are exactly what put Indiana in a position to draft so well.

Two Fever players, NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo, were named to the 2022 WNBA All-Rookie team. Boston and South Carolina teammate Victaria Saxton add to Indiana's formidable front court, while rookie guards Grace Berger (2023 seventh overall selection) and Taylor Mikesell (13th overall), like Mitchell, can score from the outside.

Mitchell is impressed with how Indiana's young players are putting in work.

"When it comes down to competing, day in and day out, after practicing out on those first two-a-days, that class grinded it out like no other," Mitchell said. "There wasn't any complaining. There wasn't any this or that, or point your finger. Those guys just put their heads down and worked. And you got a different respect for people like that because I think they recognize early, even before a preseason game, that this can be hard.

"It's not easy, and anybody that can recognize and understand that you kind of put yourself in position to be successful."

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