April 16, 2023 

New beginnings in the Bronx: Bridgette Mitchell looks to ‘revive’ Fordham Rams

What the beginning of the Mitchell era means for the Rams

Bridgette Mitchell grew up in Trenton, N.J., less than 80 miles away from Fordham University. Since then, her basketball journey took her to Duke, France and Poland as a player before coaching stints with Wagner, Siena, James Madison, Pittsburgh and Northeastern where she served as head coach for the last two seasons. Mitchell was named head coach of Fordham on April 7, returning close to home once more. 

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Mitchell’s journey of basketball away from home began at Duke, where she started 43 of her 131 games in Durham. She averaged 8.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game as a senior. She succeeded off the court as well, majoring in sociology with a minor in African American studies and earning a certificate in markets and management studies. Mitchell then headed to Europe where she played for Villeneuve d’Ascq in France and Energa Torun in Poland.

Mitchell got her start in coaching in 2013 when her former AAU coach, Kevin Lynch, helped her get a job at Wagner. Lynch saw her hosting free clinics for underprivileged youth the prior summer and how her face lit up while mentoring younger players. “Some months later, he was getting his first Division I job at Wagner University and Kevin was like, ‘Mitch, you got to come with me, you got to come. And that started my coaching career,” she recalled at her introductory press conference on April 11.

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Though Mitchell has no ties to Fordham, at her press conference she said, “This is still a dream come true for me to be a companion in the Jesuit mission of men and women for others. Being a good person and taking care of others are values that are needed in this world. To be a part of an institution whose mission aligns with my values is truly a blessing.”

From the beginning of the interviewing process, Mitchell asked a lot of questions, Fordham’s director of athletics Ed Kull noted at the press conference. “A lot of good questions in terms of understanding who we are, what we’re about, who we want to be, whether it was challenging myself, challenging our committee, challenging our president, challenging our board of trustees,” he said. “She knows what success looks like, she knows what commitment looks like, and at the level it needs to be.” 

Fordham has been to the postseason nine times in the past 11 years, only missing it after the 2015-16 season and the 2019-20 postseason which COVID-19 impacted. Despite the recent success of the program, including three consecutive WNIT appearances, Mitchell has high expectations for where she wants to lead the program. 

“The last time that Fordham won [an A-10 Tournament championship] was 2019,” Mitchell told The Next. “There’s been years in between that. And so it’s more of like a reviving, very similar to what I had success with at doing Northeastern. Northeastern, granted, had been longer, since they saw those heights. But being able to come in and establish culture in a pretty quick timeframe is something that is a strength of mine, being able to relate to my players, and to get the best out of them so that they can reach their maximum potential, and really have a great overall college experience is my goal.”

Mitchell is excited to join a program with a history of success and an athletic department that pours resources into it. The location also appealed to her, and not just because it is close to her family in Trenton.

“You get to reach and tap into a lot of different athletes that find New York City appealing,” Mitchell said. “It’s a melting pot, a beautiful location, an awesome city. And so I’m just really looking forward to being able to recruit and compete for championships.”

In just two seasons under Mitchell, Northeastern went from being picked last to regular-season co-champions of the Colonial Athletic Association and Mitchell was named the 2022-23 CAA Coach of the Year. She looks forward to quickly competing in the same way in the Atlantic 10. Mitchell is excited about the postseason opportunities competing in the A-10 provides. Mitchell also described the conference as both competitive and winnable, citing Rebecca Tillett leading Saint Louis to the program’s first NCAA Tournament in March as an example. 

Before trying to compete for a championship, Mitchell will have to find a way to replace the production from the team’s eight departing seniors and graduate students. In addition to players that are three-level scorers, she looks for players who have a specific skill set, such as rebounding, that enjoy and take pride in their role. Mitchell knows that having different puzzle pieces will be critical to her team’s success. 

In addition to recruiting incoming freshmen, Mitchell believes that Fordham’s master’s programs could attract graduate transfers. Most importantly though, she is looking for the right fit. “A young woman that wants to excel on and off the court, is competitive, likes to have fun, but is also a really good quality person,” Mitchell said. “We’re a Jesuit institution. And so you got to really be a good person to fit.”

The college experience, specifically having her student-athletes excel on the court and in the classroom, is important to Mitchell. Mitchell uses basketball as a way to teach time management and discipline. She noted competitiveness is also going to be present in each practice, whether against each other, themselves or the clock. She is a self-described “extreme competitor.” 

Mitchell hopes the program is able to remain competitive in her first year, but hopes to be at the top of the conference and competing for championships by year three. While Mitchell felt like she was sipping from a fire hydrant during her first year of being a head coach, she now feels more calm and relaxed in the position. Mitchell is more confident in her expectations and the standards she upholds entering her third year. As a first-time head coach, Mitchell learned from the administrative tasks she didn’t have to complete as an assistant coach. She also leaned on her staff for support and learned from their expertise. Mitchell knows people will be key to seeing out her vision at Fordham. That includes bringing in her staff in addition to recruiting.

Mitchell’s top priority in the next three months is connecting with the program’s returning players. “They’re here. They know Fordham. Fordham is what they chose to be home,” Mitchell said. “And so it’s really important that I get them settled and them confident and believing and starting to change the culture and establish the vision for what we’re all going to be striving for and make sure we’re all on the same page with that.”

While in the Bronx during the week of April 10, Mitchell met with current players before planning to return to Boston to get clothes and prepare for recruiting. Her next goal is to reach out to parents and alumni, though she might wait until her staff is set. Regardless of the exact timing, Mitchell’s excited about all the next steps. “I’m ready to hit the ground running … I’m excited about that and really just getting there, really getting there and getting my feet set.”

Written by Natalie Heavren

Natalie Heavren has been a contributor to The Next since February 2019 and currently writes about the Atlantic 10 conference, the WNBA and the WBL.

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