Cheryl Mitchell wasn't sure what project her third-grade daughter was working on when she asked to go to the store to pick up poster board. Tiffany Mitchell created a collage of WNBA star Dawn Staley - beginning a trek that has landed the South Carolina coach and Gamecocks standout in the school's first Final Four.
Mitchell has shown she's every bit as skilled as her idol.
She scored the go-ahead basket to beat North Carolina, 67-65, in the Sweet 16, then followed that with seven straight points to put the Gamecocks ahead for good in an 80-74 victory over Florida State in the Elite Eight.
Now the AP all-American and the rest of Staley's Gamecocks (34-2) will square off against Notre Dame (35-2) in the national semifinals Sunday night in Tampa, Fla. The winner will play Maryland or UConn.
Mitchell quickly outshined most players on the court and became a standout in AAU basketball. Then came the recruiting letters and interest from Staley.
And when the two finally met in person, "Tiffany was mesmerized," Cheryl Mitchell said.
Mitchell committed to South Carolina during her junior year.
Mitchell had talent, loved basketball like Staley did, and worked hard in high school. But the coach wasn't fully convinced how special she'd be for the Gamecocks.
"Tiffany is self-motivated. When you see how much she was in the gym her first year, that's when you go, 'Aha, she's the one that's going to take us to higher heights,"' Staley said.
This season, Mitchell excelled again at 14.5 points a game and earned her second consecutive SEC player of the year award despite being the focus of every opponent's defensive game plan. It's that drive, Staley said, that puts Mitchell among the best in women's basketball.
Mitchell's focus is only on this weekend, a destination and opportunity the Gamecocks have pointed too all year long.