Women’ Hoops: Mitchell drafted 25th overall

By By Natalie Dicou

By Natalie Dicou

The gloomy clouds that settled over the U women’s basketball program after its early exit from the NCAA Tournament have finally lifted. The sun once again shined on the team Wednesday morning when former All-America point guard Leilani Mitchell was selected by the Phoenix Mercury with the 25th overall pick in the WNBA draft, making her a late second-round pick in the 14-team league.

With the selection, Mitchell became the third Ute in the last three years to be drafted.

“I haven’t been smiling much the last three weeks, and I have a great big grin on my face now,” Utah head coach Elaine Elliott said. “Everybody’s grinning and laughing again around here. It’s just a great time for all of us, and she’s earned it.”

Being selected was not a sure thing for Mitchell, who left last weekend’s pre-draft camp in Tampa, Fla., still unsure if she was going to hear her name on draft day. A few teams expressed interest, but there were no serious conversations between Mitchell and team representatives.

The up-in-the-air circumstances led to an intense scene Wednesday morning in the Utah locker room.

By the time the second round began to wind down, Mitchell, who was watching the draft on NBA TV with her friends and teammates, became more and more nervous.

“I was starting to think, OK, it’s not going to happen,” Mitchell said.

Fellow backcourt standout Morgan Warburton said she never doubted for a second that Mitchell would be drafted. To Warburton, it was only a matter of time.

“I knew she would get drafted within the next seven (picks),” Warburton said. “The people that they were putting in the draft, there were a couple players that she was even better than that got (picked) higher than her.”

Mitchell’s fears were suppressed moments later when she finally heard her name.

“They were really excited, hugging and screaming and jumping around, all of that,” Mitchell said of her roommates, who jumped on the new draftee as she laughed and smiled.

For Warburton, having a teammate and close friend get a shot at joining a WNBA team was a consolation prize for a season that ended bitterly.

However, Mitchell’s spot on the reigning champion Mercury team is not guaranteed. Only first-round picks receive guaranteed contracts. Everyone else in the WNBA must vie for a coveted spot.

“The good news is that when you’re drafted, obviously somebody has chosen you to come and compete for their open spot,” Elliott said.

Mitchell is stoked about joining one of the strongest backcourts in the league, which is led by Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter — both members of the U.S. national team.

“I just have to go there and soak up everything that they tell me, and just do whatever they ask me to do,” she said.

Mitchell plans to attend rookie orientation on April 17, after which she’ll immediately head to Phoenix. Training camp starts April 20.

As for the Utah women’s basketball team, Elliott hopes that current and future players with lofty aspirations will see Utah as a program that can get them to the next level.

“We want to be able to attract high-caliber (players), and we want to be able to offer that kind of training for kids that are looking for that,” Elliott said. “So it’s a good signal all the way around.”

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Anna Kartashova

With the 25th pick in the 2008 WNBA Draft, the Phoenix Mercury called Utah point guard Leilani Mitchell’s name. Mitchell is the third Ute to be drafted into the league over the past three years.