It took two transfers for Taylor Mikesell to find her way to Ohio State, but she’s glad she finally did.
Ohio State pursued Mikesell as a recruit out of Jackson High School in Northeast Ohio, but she chose to go to Maryland instead. When she entered the transfer portal for the first time after two years with the Terrapins, she ended up heading west to Oregon. Kevin McGuff’s third recruiting pitch to Mikesell proved to be the charm, as she transferred to Ohio State after just one year at Oregon.
McGuff was always a believer in Mikesell’s ability, so much so that the Buckeyes brought Mikesell in as a transfer before the 2021-22 season even though it was unclear if she would be immediately eligible to play with it being her second transfer. As her Ohio State career nears its end two years later, she’s grateful to McGuff for giving her that opportunity.
“I’m just thankful for McGuff and the coaching staff for taking me in, kind of not really knowing the baggage I had coming in mentally, just even if I was gonna be able to play the year I came in,” Mikesell said after Ohio State’s regular-season ending Senior Night game. “So just credit to him and the rest of the coaching staff for bringing me in here.”
Mikesell chose to become a Buckeye the third time around because she believed Ohio State would enable her to play to her strengths and achieve her ultimate goal of playing in the WNBA.
“My end goal was always to make it to the WNBA, and I think leaving Oregon was trying to put myself in a better position to do that more than anything, and then just be able to play my game, I think a little freer, which is what was appealing to Coach McGuff and Ohio State,” Mikesell told Eleven Warriors on Friday.
McGuff felt Mikesell’s vision for what she wanted in a college program aligned with Ohio State’s vision for what it was looking for in a transfer addition.
“I just think it was a really good fit, because I think she was kind of looking for a place where she could kind of play the way she kind of wants to play and play her game. And I was looking for somebody that could come in and really score the ball,” McGuff said. “And so I think she's embraced what we do. And we’ve certainly embraced her in terms of really giving her the freedom to be the best player that she can be.”
That vision has come to life over the course of Mikesell’s two seasons as a Buckeye. After averaging no more than 13.4 points per game in her first three collegiate seasons, Mikesell averaged 18.6 points per game in her first season at Ohio State and has followed that up by leading the Buckeyes with 17.2 points per game this year. She’s earned All-Big Ten honors in both seasons and is projected as a potential first-round pick in the 2023 WNBA draft.
Mikesell says she needed to grow through her experiences at Maryland and Oregon, and that she learned she needed to believe in herself more than anything. But she believes it all led her to where she belonged in the end.
“I'm a firm believer everything happens for a reason,” Mikesell said. “I think this was the best decision I could have made coming back here. I think it’s been my favorite years of my entire career, just being able to come back here; just having gone through what I went through, being able to come back here, it’s meant so much more to me. If I had to do it again, I would do it again in a heartbeat, if that meant that I got to be here at the end of it.”
McGuff said Mikesell has been a crucial part of Ohio State’s success over the past two seasons as the Buckeyes earned a No. 3 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament after making a run to the Sweet 16 a year ago.
“She's been incredible,” McGuff said. “On the court, you can see what she does, she scores the ball. She's been an integral part of everything that we do. More importantly, I think off the court, has really added to our culture, because of her work ethic. And I think here in year two, being really much more vocal in terms of her leadership.”
Her consistent production as a scorer has been even more important this season than it was last season because Jacy Sheldon, who led the Buckeyes in scoring in 2021-22, was sidelined for all but six games during the regular season with a foot injury. Despite being a natural shooting guard, Mikesell was asked to play point guard at times, and McGuff was impressed with how she took to the added responsibility.
“We were asking her to score the ball, we're asking her to run the team, asking her to make people better and we put a lot on her shoulders and she stepped up and did everything she could to help us,” McGuff said.
Now that Sheldon is back in action, her pairing with Mikesell forms one of the most dynamic backcourts in women’s college basketball. And Sheldon says her chemistry with Mikesell makes life much easier for her as a point guard.
“It makes it so easy. I tell her that all the time,” Sheldon said. “Her (defender)’s right on her the whole time. So if I'm driving to her side, they're not moving. So the lanes that she opens up for not only me, but our whole team is incredible. And then obviously just trying to get her shots when they turn their head or when she's open is the key.”
Beyond her sharpshooting skill on the court – her 3.2 made 3-pointers per game and 40.6% 3-point shooting percentage both rank among the top 11 in the country – Mikesell has made a big impact for the Buckeyes as one of the team’s best leaders.
“She’s a great leader. She keeps us calm,” Rikki Harris said. “I know sometimes everybody gets frazzled, but she hasn’t shown it. When she does, she does it to the side. So she's just a great calm voice on the court that keeps us together.”
Sheldon says Mikesell is one of the team’s best at holding others accountable, as she isn’t afraid to call other players out if they aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Mikesell also leads by example with her work ethic, which is exemplified by her daily shooting sessions at the Schottenstein Center every morning.
“She wakes up every morning and goes in and shoots every morning,” Sheldon said. “No matter if (it’s the day) after a game, we have a game that day, like she's getting in here, she's getting her shots up. So she’s one of the hardest workers I know.”
“I think this was the best decision I could have made coming back here. I think it’s been my favorite years of my entire career.”– Taylor Mikesell on transferring to Ohio State
That work ethic has enabled Mikesell to thrive in her two seasons at Ohio State, and she’ll soon have the opportunity to achieve her dream of playing in the WNBA as a result. She believes her decision to transfer to Ohio State is one of the biggest reasons why she’s in that position, and she’ll have a strong supporter in McGuff who will be happy to make her case to WNBA coaches.
“One, you're gonna get an outstanding young woman who's going to be a great fit to your culture. She's gonna work incredibly hard, and just raise the standards of your entire organization with her work ethic,” McGuff said when asked what he’d tell a WNBA coach about Mikesell. “And then three, she has a skill that she does better than almost anyone. And there's something to be said for, we know what she's gonna bring on a nightly basis … one of the most efficient shooters/scorers in the country, and you're gonna get that every night.”
Before she begins her professional career, though, Mikesell hopes to play up to five more games as a Buckeye as Ohio State looks to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
She will play her final game at the Schottenstein Center at 4 p.m. Monday when the Buckeyes host No. 6 seed North Carolina in the second round of the tournament. Self-described as “not a super-sentimental person,” Mikesell says she’s not thinking much about playing at home for the last time, instead keeping her focus on leading the Buckeyes to a victory as they look to advance to the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row.
Mikesell is drawing motivation from this year’s tournament being her last as a college basketball player, though, knowing it will be her final opportunity to play in March Madness.
“You don't get a second chance this time,” Mikesell said. “You don't get another chance to come back and do it again, which I think is really more of a liberating thing than anything else. You have nothing to lose at this point, and you just gotta go out and take every day one day at a time and just try to keep getting better every day and just fight for another day basically.”
Ohio State’s other players are drawing motivation from wanting to make a deep run for Mikesell, who could have entered the WNBA draft last year but instead chose to use her additional year of eligibility to play another season with the Buckeyes.
Sheldon, who has not yet decided whether she will return for her extra year of eligibility, was among those who convinced Mikesell to return to the Buckeyes for another season with the belief that they were capable of being a Final Four contender this season. So she says the goal of sending Mikesell out on a high note is her greatest source of motivation to keep Ohio State’s tournament run going.
“How hard she works, we want to do it for her. We want to do it for each other. And I think she wants to do it for us, too,” Sheldon said. “So the chemistry we have is insane. And she's part of the reason why we work so hard every day. So yeah, we're gonna try and make the best run we can.”