June 16, 2024 

Father’s Day game will hold new meaning for Indiana Fever guard Kelsey Mitchell

On Sunday, Indiana Fever guard Kelsey Mitchell will play a game on Father's Day for the first time without her dad

INDIANAPOLIS — It’s the Indiana Fever’s first home game of the 2024 season, and All-Star guard Kelsey Mitchell is going through her pre-game warmup. The atmosphere was stunning as the arena began to fill in with more than 17,000 fans. It was a highly-anticipated game for many. But Mitchell’s mind was elsewhere.

Continue reading with a subscription to The Next

Get unlimited access to women’s basketball coverage and help support our hardworking staff of writers, editors, and photographers by subscribing today.

Join today

The veteran guard, who has been with the Indiana Fever for her entire career, keeps her circle tight. To Mitchell, family is everything. Her parents and friends come to many games, and they chat just outside the arena once the action is over. After the 28-year old found out she wasn’t an All-Star in 2022, she instantly Facetimed her parents for a vent session. It’s how she stays grounded and works through emotions.

In late March, Mitchell’s father Mark passed away. He was a fan, a parent, a trainer, and so much more to her. He held her accountable in basketball as their relationship grew. They were extremely close in all aspects of life. And so, before the Fever were set to take on the New York Liberty for their home opener, Mitchell opened up in an emotional moment.

“It’s different, not having my dad this time around, life’s a little different,” Mitchell said. She felt good about her growth as a player and where Indiana was headed as a team, but her dad was on her mind 90 minutes before tipoff. “Trying to figure stuff out from what I was used to… So I’m making an adjustment.

The Next, a 24/7/365 women’s basketball newsroom

The Next: A basketball newsroom brought to you by The IX. 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage, written, edited and photographed by our young, diverse staff and dedicated to breaking news, analysis, historical deep dives and projections about the game we love.

“I got my cry out earlier,” she added later. The emotions come and go, and while fielding questions from reporters, they were coming. “I feel prepared for what’s happened this year and the rest of my life because of my dad.”

Mitchell knew at that moment that hard days were coming. Her dad got her ready to handle those moments with the values he displayed throughout his life. During past seasons, the two would text often, and Kelsey would visit her family in Ohio during the WNBA calendar.

Now, those visits have become much more frequent. Mitchell tries to go see her mom every off day that she can. It’s a multi-hour drive, but it’s worth it. “We’re all we got … we kind of lean on each other,” she said.

Mitchell’s support system has always been her family and friends. Now, that is reciprocated. Since her dad passed away, family has been everything for the Mitchells. Kelsey loves seeing her mom in good spirits whenever she can, considering they are both going through a heavy loss.

Indiana Fever guard Kelsey Mitchell
Indiana Fever guard Kelsey Mitchell shoots the ball in a game against the Washington Mystics on June 7, 2024. (Photo Credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

Sunday is Father’s Day, and the Indiana Fever have a game. They will host the Chicago Sky in what is already a highly anticipated duel. For Mitchell, the basketball part of the day will be therapeutic. She feels like herself on the court, even during emotional times.

“My dad prepared me for every kind of moment. I can go into any atmosphere, any circumstance, and be able to come out smelling like fresh air,” she said Saturday.

The rest of the day will be challenging, particularly the lead-up to the action. Mark Mitchell won’t be in the house for the game. His impact and influence will certainly be present as Kelsey suits up and plays her game. But it will all feel different.

“I think the game is the easy part. I think the hardest part is everything before,” Mitchell shared. “The memories, obviously. But I feel good about being able to play for my dad tomorrow. I just feel good about it.

“I just miss my dad a lot,” she added. “Having to do this without him, and this lifestyle, I’ve always expected my parents to be around, both of them. It’s a new experience for me, but I’m embracing it.”

Get 24/7 soccer coverage with The Equalizer

The Next is partnering with The Equalizer to bring more women’s sports stories to your inbox. Subscribers to The Next receive 50% off their subscription to The Equalizer for 24/7 coverage of women’s soccer.

Mitchell has had a slower start to the season than she would have liked. She opened the season with an ankle injury, and her efficiency numbers currently aren’t where they have been in the past (but they are climbing).

But in the Fever’s last nine games, the All-Star guard is averaging 16.8 points per game on 41.1% shooting. And she had a season-high 24 points during Indiana’s win over Atlanta on Thursday. In three of Mitchell’s last four games, she has knocked down three triples. So, after a slower start to the year, she is looking like herself again.

“For me though, [Kelsey] is communicating in a different way this year,” head coach Christie Sides said of Mitchell’s impact. Sides added that it’s clear how Mitchell’s timing and instincts have improved playing alongside Caitlin Clark.

Mitchell is a veteran leader and premier talent for Indiana. She’s been with the Fever for seven years and has seen the franchise go through lots of change.

This year, it’s Mitchell who has to go through change. Her teammates and coaches know the emotions go unspoken. They’ve all given Kelsey space to work through her feelings and help when they can. “When the emotions fly, there’s no telling what’s going to happen,” Mitchell said of Father’s Day.

The Ohio State product might never feel the way she does tomorrow ever again. Maybe, it ends up being easy. The feelings could come and go. But Sunday will be an unforgettable day and game for Kelsey Mitchell as she hits the hardwood on Father’s Day without Mark there to see it. He left a massive impact on Kelsey, her family, and everyone he met.

“I feel good about the 28 years I had [with] my dad,” Kelsey said. “I say that all the time, because legacy is everything. And I feel like my dad left that.”

Want even more women’s sports in your inbox?

Subscribe now to our sister publication The IX and receive our independent women’s sports newsletter six days a week. Learn more about your favorite athletes and teams around the world competing in soccer, tennis, basketball, golf, hockey and gymnastics from our incredible team of writers.

Readers of The Next now save 50% on their subscription to The IX.

Written by Tony East

Indiana Fever reporter based in Indianapolis. Enjoy a good statistical-based argument.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.