Editor’s note: Seattle Times reporter Jayda Evans will have a weekly conversation with a newsmaker in the WNBA. This week she speaks with Phoenix point guard Leilani Mitchell. Born in Richland, the former Kennewick High star skipped the 2014 WNBA season to complete paperwork for her Australian passport and compete with its national team. Her late mother was Australian. Mitchell, who turned 30 Monday, is averaging a career-best 12.3 points and 3.3 assists for the Mercury.
Question: You’re a full-on Aussie, helping the team win a bronze medal in the 2014 World Championship without stars Lauren Jackson and Liz Cambage. How was your time away?
Answer: I wanted to take a break from basketball last summer and try out for the national team, and it was great. I really love the style of play that the new coach (Brendan Joyce) implemented. I don’t regret anything that I did taking the year off. It’s so hard to actually have a life, so to be able to have down time and enjoy everything besides basketball — I feel refreshed and happy.
Q: Do I hear an accent? Did your Washington roots disappear that fast?
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A: People keep saying that, but I don’t hear it. I’ve been there a couple of years (playing in the Women’s National Basketball League during the WNBA offseason), so I guess. All of my mom’s side of the family is there. I always heard about them, but to actually meet them face to face was kind of heartwarming. I’ve always felt at home there. But I don’t like the vegemite or meat pies.
Q: Did you learn more about your mother (Ellie Majid, who died of cancer in 2009)?
A: She’s similar to her sisters, so spending time with my Aunties was nice and made me feel a little bit closer to my mom — the accent and they look alike. My Nana is still alive, too. They live in the Northern Territory (Darwin), so I spent Christmas there, and it was so hot it was ridiculous. We’re eating outside and going down to the beach; the whole thing is opposite of what you’re used to. But it was nice. I get to see my (siblings) when I’m here (Seattle), but I think I’d actually like to live in Australia. I won’t be moving back to Washington.
Q: You signed as a free agent with Phoenix, filling a void in the backcourt left by Diana Taurasi, who’s skipping this season to rest. What made you return?
A: I wasn’t 100 percent sure I wanted to come back, because I’m getting older and thinking about having more time to experience life. In Australia (with the WNBL), you only practice three times a week. With the WNBA or Europe, it’s every day and then you have games and travel. But Phoenix obviously needed a couple of point guards with ‘D’ being out, and I never wanted to leave after I was drafted and traded to New York my rookie year (2008). I like (coach) Sandy (Brondello); she’s an Aussie legend and the team still has a solid core. I thought it was no-brainer.
Jayda Evans’ WNBA power rankings
|1.||2||Tulsa||Has winning record for the first time since team relocated from Detroit in 2010.|
|2.||1||Minnesota||Went 0 for 9 from three-point range in 15-point loss to depleted Phoenix.|
|3.||3||Chicago||Forward Tamera Young underwent surgery on right thumb Monday.|
|4.||4||Washington||Continues to win despite missing starters Bria Hartley (right foot) and Kia Vaughn (concussion).|
|5.||5||New York||Australian rookie Rebecca Allen suffered a season-ending knee injury.|
|6.||7||Phoenix||DeWanna Bonner’s scoring replaces loss of Brittney Griner (suspension) and Diana Taurasi (rest).|
|7.||11||Connecticut||Eastern Conference leader on three-game win streak, plays at Seattle next.|
|8.||6||Atlanta||Tiffany Hayes and Aneika Henry to miss five games due to international competition.|
|9.||8||Seattle||Former posts Camille Little and Shekkina Stricklen lead Connecticut at KeyArena on Tuesday.|
|10.||9||Los Angeles||All-Star Nneka Ogwumike remains day-to-day with a sprained left ankle.|
|11.||10||San Antonio||Jayne Appel leads league in blocks at 3.3 per game, but Stars are winless.|
|12.||12||Indiana||All-Star Tamika Catchings served one-game suspension for contact with an official.|