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April 11, 2016

In her own words, typically light-hearted senior guard Tiffany Mitchell reflects on the foundational moments of her Gamecock career and on what Coach Staley and Gamecock Nation have meant to her and her future. 11861634.jpeg

I’m really going to miss playing in front of these people.

In the press conference after my last game at Colonial Life Arena, that’s what got me almost crying ââ’¬” which I hate doing to begin with, so crying in front of people is a big deal. The other last game? That one I still can’t get over. I’m still mad that we lost and about the way we lost. So, I’ll just think about the end in our arena.

These were some of the best years that I’ve had playing and playing in front of a huge crowd. I have friends on other teams, and no one gets to experience what we have. They don’t want to come here and play. It’s like a national championship game playing in Colonial Life Arena.

People really think of us as their daughters, how much they love us. They really think of us as family, and that’s the best part. They’re going through more emotions just watching the game than we are playing the game. When you have fans that act like that, for it to take them over like that, it feels good knowing that you’re playing for a purpose.

I’m moving on now ââ’¬” signing with an agent, getting ready for the WNBA Draft. I’m kind of just awaiting my fate. I’m nervous. I’m more anxious than anything. I just want it to be over so I can know where I’m going and what I’m doing. But whatever happens, happens now.

So much has happened to get to this point, though.

My freshman year, I think the only thing Coach Staley liked was the fact that even when I did everything wrong, I still went hard. I did everything 100% even though it was wrong, so it was hard for her to yell at me. But, she made me question myself, pushed me to limits I never thought I could be pushed to, and that was just my first year.

I remember at the end of the season we looked at all my percentages. I was shooting, like, 20 percent from 3. My free throw percentage was horrible for a guard. I had a lot of turnovers. She was just, like, ‘This is not a recipe for wanting to be an All-American and get to the WNBA and be a first-round draft pick and all of that.’ Of course I didn’t want to hear ‘You can’t shoot’ and ‘You’re not on a trail to be one of the better players.’ But, that’s fuel for me, someone telling me ‘You’re not good enough to do this.’ That’s all I need, someone to tell me I can’t do it. I just want to do it even more to prove it to them.

So, I went to work on my shot, because it was messed up. No one really ever told me it was wrong because I was better than everyone else and they didn’t want to change what I was doing. But it was catching up to me when I was playing with people better than me, faster, stronger than me. I had to figure out what was the problem.

I always wonder what type of player I’d be if I went somewhere else, played for someone other than Coach Staley. I think I would still be in the gym as much, but as far as what I need to work on and her telling me ‘If you really want to have a career in this, you need to do that,’ I don’t know that another coach would be that honest with me, tell me that I can’t shoot.

A year later, when I was standing at the Final Four with the other WBCA All-Americans, part of me couldn’t believe I was out there with those players. But, another part of me knew I had worked for that, that my hard work was paying off finally. That whole season, my sophomore year, when I went back to my high school, it was ridiculous how much people said they were keeping up with me and following me, how proud they were of me. I really felt like a celebrity, but I tried not to let it get to my head. I remember saying to everyone here ‘I don’t want to know the awards any more, just tell me after it’s over.’

When you play on a big stage, your name gets out there. When you have big games and you play well, people start expecting you to do something every time there’s a big game. I know when it’s crunch time, a lot of people shy away from not wanting to make a mistake. I’m the type that if we’re going out, I’d rather me make the mistake than live with someone else doing it and me wondering if I could’ve done this or that. In those games, especially those games to get to the Final Four in 2015, Coach Staley drew up the play and was just, like, ‘Make something happen.’ It feels good that she trusts me basically with the game, and I just think about trying to create, to do something to either score or get someone open to score. In my head I might think ‘Don’t mess up,’ but then again, I know I’ve been doing this, running the same plays. So I try not to put too much pressure on myself, just make another play.

When you’re used to playing at a high level and expect so much of yourself and then you can’t do it, you wonder what’s going on. That’s what was going through my head when this season started. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t making shots, why I wasn’t doing what I knew I could do any more. I was making everything harder than it really was, thinking about it too much. At the same time, I really couldn’t do it. My foot just wasn’t ready. So I was playing mind games with myself, literally driving myself crazy. It was really frustrating.

Turned out the end of the season was just as frustrating. That day started out the same. It felt like a regular game. Our backs had been against the wall a lot in games, and we always found a way to win. We always found plays and stops to get over the hump. In that game, we just couldn’t find it.

I know I can’t expect 18,000 fans at the rest of my games, but I know Gamecock Nation will be watching from afar. Coming through this program, having that kind of support and everybody having your back ââ’¬” that’s something every kid dreams of.

So, thank you to our fans. It’s been fun, and I’m definitely going to miss playing in front of you.