Putting on her jersey as a member of the Morgan State women’s basketball program should be almost as automatic as blinking for Chelsea Mitchell, a redshirt senior guard.
After sitting out last season because of an NCAA policy regarding transfers, Mitchell has embraced each opportunity to wear her No. 15 jersey, especially before the team’s season opener at Marquette on Nov. 5.
“It was a lot of emotions,” she recalled. “I was just so excited, and the adrenaline was running like never before. I was nervous. I was mainly just excited because I had missed being in this atmosphere, the big D-I games, and just learning a lot from all different types of players.”
Mitchell’s perspective might be easier to grasp once you realize that this is her second stint with the Bears, who improved to 9-11 overall record and 5-2 mark in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with victory Saturday at Coppin State.
Mitchell, 22, spent the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons at Morgan State before leaving for Division II Lander University in South Carolina. After one winter there in 2017-18, she returned to the Bears.
“A roller coaster of emotions,” she called her final season. “Just the excitement of even putting the jersey back on is the best thing ever. But it’s also a different conference, a different level of basketball. So I’ve got to remember why I’m playing, who I’m playing for, and I’ve just got to keep my foot on the gas pedal.”
The Columbia resident enjoyed a storied career at Atholton High School, leading the Raiders to the 2015 Howard County championship, racking up more than 1,000 career points and becoming the 2015 Howard County Times/Columbia Flier Player of the Year.
Recruited by American, Morgan State and Quinnipiac, Mitchell chose the Bears because of her affinity for associate head coach/recruiting coordinator Wanika Owsley and a desire to help the program capture its first MEAC title.
After a quiet freshman campaign, Mitchell started 28 of 30 games as a sophomore, averaged 6.1 points and 4.7 rebounds and ranked second on the team in total steals with 47. But she said she chafed at the role of being a more all-around player instead of a pure scorer, and her confidence waned. That’s when she informed coach Edward Davis Jr. of her intention to transfer.
“We weren’t winning as much, and that kind of made me think, ‘Oh, maybe I can go to a better program,’” she said. “But then at the same time, I had my teammates who were like family to me here and made me feel like I was at home. And it felt almost like I was quitting on myself because I wasn’t sticking through with what I was going through here. That was the hardest part.”
Davis recalled begging Mitchell to stay, predicting that she would be the team’s go-to player the following season.
“It caught me off-guard, but I kind of understood where she was,” he said. “I was disappointed she was there, but I guess it was one of those things where you’ve got to go through the experience and see what you want to do.”
Mitchell said she chose Lander after being convinced by coach Kevin Pederson, but almost immediately began to regret her decision after arriving in Greenwood, South Carolina. She was alone, more than 550 miles from her family, and in need of assistance from teammates just to visit the local big retailer 20 minutes away from campus.
In 33 games (31 starts), Mitchell led the Bearcats in rebounding (8.2) and total steals (107) while averaging 15.3 points and 2.4 assists en route to being named to the Peach Belt Conference first team. She also raised her GPA from 2.8 to 3.6.
But even before the season had ended, Mitchell had decided to transfer back to Morgan State.
“In my first couple of months down there, it just didn’t feel right,” she said. “I wasn’t in the right spot. I immediately regretted my decision to leave Morgan.”
In April 2018, Mitchell contacted Davis, who welcomed her back. Others weren’t as forgiving.
“There were people that felt that way, but I didn’t,” Davis said. “When a kid calls you up and says, ‘I made a mistake. I want to be back. I did this, and I did that, and I’ll do whatever it takes to come back,’ as a coach, you shouldn’t have too much to say other than, ‘What do I have to lose? Let me see.’ And that’s what I did.”
Mitchell has made an immediate impact for the Bears, pacing the team in scoring (13.5), rebounds (8.7), steals (3.8) and minutes played (33.5) and ranking third in assists (1.4) going into Saturday’s game. She leads the MEAC in rebounds and ranks second in steals and fourth in scoring and minutes played.
At 5 feet 9, Mitchell is the ninth-tallest player on Morgan State, which owns sole possession of fourth place in the league. But redshirt junior forward Dahnye Redd said her teammate is fearless about crashing the boards and attacking the paint against much larger foes.
“It is kind of surprising, but if you played with her, you would know and understand why,” Redd said. “She’s always on the go.”
Davis compared Mitchell to a free safety in football, someone who can shoot from the perimeter as a power forward and guard an opposing shooting guard. As much as he hated missing Mitchell for a year, he acknowledged that her time at Lander helped her grow accustomed to the physicality of playing in the post.
Davis said Mitchell’s ferocity even during practice has rubbed off on her teammates.
“They’re now elevating around Chelsea and Dahnye Redd,” he said. “I think to watch her fire, her energy has definitely been uplifting for us. To be where we are, without her, we might not be there.”
Asked if she would tell her younger self to avoid transferring from the Bears, Mitchell replied, “No, I wouldn’t change anything because I grew as a leader, I grew in the classroom, and I grew on the court. I think it’s made me a better basketball player.”
Mitchell has already earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration and is working towards a master’s in the same field. She admitted that she wasn’t entirely sure she would finish her collegiate career at Morgan State.
“To take that path is surreal,” she said. “It’s a challenge for myself, but I take pride in it every day. I like leading this team. Sometimes I’ve got to do a better job, but I like it a lot.”
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