Less than one month after playing the final game of their Ohio State careers, Kelsey Mitchell and Stephanie Mavunga are set to officially become professionally basketball players.
Mitchell, coming off an illustrious four-year Buckeye career in which she rewrote both the Ohio State and NCAA record books, will be in New York to attend Thursday’s WNBA Draft, in which she is expected to be selected with either the second or third overall pick.
Mavunga, who averaged a double-double and led Ohio State in rebounds in each of her two seasons as a Buckeye after transferring from North Carolina, is projected to be a late first-round or early second-round pick in Thursday’s three-round event.
Thursday will be the fulfillment of a childhood dream for both players, with Mitchell saying it is her goal to continue playing basketball competitively for as long as she can. The weeks leading up to the draft have been a whirlwind, however, because of the quick turnaround from the end of their Ohio State careers.
"It’s been really hectic," Mitchell said Monday after attending Ohio State’s Scholar-Athlete Dinner. "I don’t know how exciting it is, but I’m happy to be a part of a week like this one, not knowing what’s coming next. But hopeful and grateful for everything that’s coming my way."
Unlike the more high-profile NBA and NFL drafts, WNBA prospects don’t get the opportunity to participate in a scouting combine or participate in private workouts for teams interested in drafting them. After all, Ohio State’s season ended just over three weeks ago – and had the Buckeyes advanced further than the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the turnaround would have been even shorter.
For draft prospects who played on Final Four teams, such as Mississippi State’s Victoria Vivians and Connecticut’s Azura Stevens, Gabby Williams and Kia Nurse, the WNBA draft comes less than two weeks after they played their final collegiate games.
As such, Mitchell and Mavunga said they don’t have much idea of which teams they will ultimately end up on. They’re both excited, though, to see how it turns out.
"I pray about it, and I trust that God will help put me in the right situation, and so anywhere that I go, I’ll be excited and I’ll work hard," Mavunga said.
While Mitchell and Mavunga probably would have liked to been able to get some rest after the Buckeyes’ season came to an end, they’ve had to continue working out to keep themselves in basketball shape, as they will have another quick turnaround to the start of the WNBA season, which begins May 18.
Additionally, Mitchell and Mavunga have continued to fulfill their academic commitments to Ohio State, even though the athletic portions of their Ohio State careers are over, making their last few weeks even more hectic. Mitchell, a Big Ten Medal of Honor finalist for her accomplishments both on the court and in the classroom, has been completing her coursework so that can she graduate next month with a degree in sport industry. Mavunga, who has achieved a 4.0 grade-point average at Ohio State, is working toward a master’s degree in sport management.
While it hasn’t been easy, Mitchell and Mavunga have both had highly successful Ohio State careers both athletically and academically, and say they will look back on their time as Buckeyes with fond memories.
"It’s been a really, really, really, really crazy time, but I enjoyed every bit of it," Mitchell said. "Four years goes so long, it felt like eight years, but at the end of the day, I’m happy I’m graduating. I’m happy I’m leaving with some of the people I came in with, only because we’ve grown to have such a great bond. And I’m happy we left it better than we found it."
Now that the draft is just a day away, though, they’re ready to find out where they’ll be playing basketball next.
"I’m really excited," Mavunga said. "Blessed for the opportunity to even kind of be in this situation, and so I’m really excited, just kind of ready to see exactly where I’m going and try to get ready to get to work."
Mitchell is projected in mock drafts by Doug Feinberg of the Associated Press and ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel to be selected by the Indiana Fever with the No. 2 overall pick in the WNBA Draft, with South Carolina's A'ja Wilson projected to be the first pick.
Feinberg also projects Mavunga to be a first-round pick, to the Los Angeles Sparks at No. 11 overall, while Voepel projects Mavunga to remain teammates with Mitchell, with the Fever selecting Mavunga with the second pick of the second round (No. 14 overall).
Mavunga and Mitchell aren’t the only Buckeyes who could hear their names called on Thursday night; Linnae Harper, who averaged 14.4 points and 8.4 rebounds for the Buckeyes this past season, is projected by Voepel to be selected by the Minnesota Lynx with the final pick of the second round (No. 24 overall).
Thursday’s WNBA Draft is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. The first round will be televised on ESPN2, while the second and third rounds will be televised on ESPNU.