Coach Bridgette Mitchell joins Pitt women’s basketball


Image via Pitt Athletics

Bridgette Mitchell was announced as the women’s basketball team’s new assistant coach in April.

By Dominic Campbell, Staff Writer

Like many tall girls, Bridgette Mitchell grew up being told she should play basketball. Coaches were interested in her from the start, though Mitchell said her height was the only asset she had when she began playing.

“I went out, tried out, all the coaches were like, ‘Oh my goodness you’re so tall! You gotta play basketball! You gotta stay, you gotta stay!’” Mitchell said. “So, I had no idea what I was doing, wasn’t very good, was just tall and ran pretty well.”

Years later, Mitchell is the new hope of the Pitt women’s basketball team. The Panthers announced Mitchell as the team’s new assistant coach in April after a search to replace Danielle Atkinson, who recently became the head coach at Hofstra. With only two conference wins last season, the women’s team hopes Mitchell will help them improve their program.

And her record looks pretty good. Mitchell comes to Pitt from a job as the assistant coach at James Madison University, where the team had a 78-26 record over three years, with three Women’s National Invitation Tournament appearances.

Mitchell started playing basketball as a girl in Trenton, New Jersey, after her grandmother saw an ad in the newspaper. She steadily improved throughout middle school and high school, and said getting to practice against boys was a huge reason for her success.

“I strongly encourage girls these days to play against guys, because they’re faster, stronger,” Mitchell said. “That’s why most colleges, all colleges really [Division] 1, have a practice squad full of guys — because they’re faster, they’re stronger and they help you develop and make you better.”

Mitchell was a McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school and played four years of basketball at Duke University. Coming out of Duke, though, she wasn’t good enough to get drafted into the WNBA, so she chose to go abroad, playing in France for Villeneuve d’Ascq in 2010 and Poland for Energa Torun from 2011-12.

After her season in Poland, Mitchell came home to Trenton where she helped take care of her diabetic mother. On the weekends, she started holding weekly basketball clinics for underprivileged girls in the area.

That was where she found her passion for mentoring and coaching. When her former Amateur Athletic Union offered her the chance to be assistant coach at Wagner, Mitchell had to choose between the coaching job and returning overseas to play in Italy. Though she was torn between coaching and continuing her professional career, Mitchell chose to coach, because the job would keep her closer to home.

When women’s basketball head coach Lance White started looking for a new assistant coach, Mitchell’s name kept coming up when he talked to people, he said. White had also watched Mitchell when she played for Duke.

“As we’re on the recruiting circuit, you just watch and observe different people and different young coaches,” White said. “You watch them really grind and work, and she was one of those that I’d just watch for a number of years and really appreciated what she did. When I had this opportunity come up [to hire a new assistant coach], there were people that I really trust … her name kept coming up in a lot of different circles. Then as we began talking, it was just really what she brought that was exactly what I needed.”

White was especially impressed by Mitchell’s ability to form strong relationships with players, coaches and families, he said. That’s an ability that’s served her well in one big aspect of the assistant coach job — recruiting.

At Pitt, like at JMU, Mitchell’s job requires her to teach basketball, mentor her players and recruit well. The job at Pitt will allow her to recruit higher-ranked players than she did at JMU, Mitchell said.

Being a recruiting coordinator requires her to know where to send her staff to recruit, what players they should target and, also, if they have a real shot at a player. Above all, she said, she places importance on really getting to know the players she recruits.

“If you’re recruiting a kid, you gotta know her parents, remember their names, her grandparents, her best friends, things that are important to her. You gotta really make sure you know those things so that you can talk about those things and genuinely care,” Mitchell said. “Parents pick up when you’re not genuine, so if you don’t care about their kid or their future or their well-being, then that’s gonna show. That aspect is really important to me because I care about them as young women first.”

Mitchell has enjoyed getting to know Oakland and Pittsburgh with her new players and staff over the past couple of months, she said, adding that she’s pleased by how well-received she’s been by the players.

Incoming sophomore guard Ismini Prapa said Mitchell has already helped her improve her game, working with her on shooting, her footwork and finishing at the rim.

“She’s a very dedicated coach,” Prapa said. “She puts a lot of energy in practice. She makes us work really hard and fight for the team, which is something that we really need. She’s a great person too, so even though she’s pushing us really hard she tries to talk with us. As soon as I met her, she wanted to go out and eat, get to know me better.”