By Lachy France
In what must be considered one of the biggest signing coups of this WNBL off-season, Brydens Sydney Uni Flames are ecstatic to announce the return of Opals point guard Leilani Mitchell to the club for the 2016/17 season. Mitchell previously played for the Flames in 2014/15, helping lead the team to the playoffs and eventually into the preliminary final. Mitchell becomes the fourth former Flame to rejoin the club this season, alongside Lauren Nicholson, Sarah Graham, and Belinda Snell.
With expected starting guard Tahlia Tupaea and backup Lauren Nicholson both sidelined for extended periods through injury, the Flames needed to add some experience to the backcourt, but to sign a player of Mitchell’s calibre will come as stunning news for Flames fans, especially after the team’s recent streak of bad luck. Mitchell’s impact for the Flames will be remembered fondly by the team’s supporters, after averaging 12.6 points and 5.5 assists per game in 2014/15 before spending last season in Adelaide. Mitchell’s scoring improved even further in 2015/16, pouring in 17.4 points per game and tallying 5.2 assists per contest for the Lightning.
The 165cm point guard has showcased some excellent form in recent weeks, with her performances in the Olympics securing a return to the WNBA with the Washington Mystics. Mitchell averaged 11.3 points and 4.5 assists per game in Rio to earn a stint with her third WNBA team, having previously played for the Phoenix Mercury and New York Liberty. Mitchell has averaged 5.9 points per outing in her 10 regular season games for Washington, with her best performance being a 20 point effort in 22 minutes of play in a 118-81 demolition of Chicago. Mitchell shot 7-10 in the win, and also tallied four assists just for good measure.
Whilst the Flames will still feel the loss of both Tahlia Tupaea and Lauren Nicholson for the first part of the season, there is no doubt that the addition of a player of Mitchell’s ilk will ensure that the team remain highly competitive in their push to reach the finals for the first time since the team’s newest signing was last at the club in 2014/15, and hopefully go a couple of steps further than that season’s preliminary final loss. With the Flames squad now featuring four players – Jennifer Hamson, Asia Taylor, Belinda Snell, and Mitchell – with WNBA experience, the side is in an excellent position to make a playoff run.
Washington will unfortunately not feature in the WNBA playoffs this season, but the silver lining is that Leilani will be linking up with the Flames sooner rather than later, and will be available for the team’s first clash of the WNBL season on the 7th October vs. the Perth Lynx.
To ensure you don’t miss your chance to catch Leilani and the Flames lighting up Brydens Stadium, grab a membership today. Memberships start from just $29 and can be purchased here.