She is a player who typical leads by example. It’s about hard work during practice and the off season and a deep desire to want to improve and win.
But there have been times in Dana Mitchell’s college basketball career when she didn’t fully realize how good she was – or how good she could be.
Mitchell, a native of Fairless Hills, Pa., was the key player who helped turn around the St. Bonaventure women’s basketball program. The forward came to a team which languished in the basement of the Atlantic 10.
But Mitchell and her talent for scoring along with her relentless pursuit of the basketball and ability to always be in the mix on every play immediately impacted the Bona program. The team had its first winning record in a decade her freshman year, in essence saving head coach Jim Crowley’s job.
Her talent and her attitude helped the staff recruit better talented players, and players who bought into the mindset that losing is not an option. The wins started piling up, culminating in an historic 2009-10 campaign with a winning conference record for the first time, a program best 23 wins and its first ever post season bid – an opportunity they ran with all the way to the WNIT quarterfinals.
Yesterday, Mitchell became the first women’s player in school history to have her number retired. Yes, there are still two regular season games remaining, an A-10 tournament to play and hopes of another postseason bid. Yes, retiring her number while she was still active was part kitsch factor. But the ceremony was a fitting tribute to a player who not only helped a program win, but helped change the culture.
See, for Mitchell it has always been about confidence. She had the talent. She had the work ethic. But did she have the belief in herself? Did she understand how good a player she was? Did she understand that her team needed her to take that shot, not pass it up in an attempt to be some sort of unselfish player? In order to for her to help her team (by definition an unselfish act) she had to shoot the ball. She had to have confidence in her own abilities before she should translate that confidence to others around her.
When she was told just how good she was – legitimately, not sugar-coated, not superfluous praise, not totally void of criticism – and she began to believe it.
Sometimes our own potential is the hardest to see.
But once we embrace who we are and what we can do, once we no longer fear the worlds where our potential can lead us, amazing things happen in our lives. And the trickle effect can be quite amazing.
Dana Mitchell didn’t just accomplish things with her team. She helped changed the way her school and the local community view women’s basketball and female athletes. She doesn’t just motivate her teammates, she provides inspiration to girls who want to be college players some day and even older sports reporters who are struggling to get through a tempo treadmill run.
Sometimes we talk about the line between cocky and confidence. But when you see true confidence, the idea of that line disappears. Because true confidence comes across genuinely, cleanly, authentically and with an air that doesn’t diminish but rather inspires.
Mitchell has that kind of confidence. And those lucky enough to be around her or watch her play can be the better for it.
(The video clip below features Dana after her jersey was officially retired at St. Bonaventure. I’m still learning how to be a good camerawoman so I beg your pardon as I work on my learning curve.)