BENDIGO Spirit has landed one of the biggest coups in the club's history with the signing of Australian Opals star and three-time WNBL champion Leilani Mitchell to a two-year deal.
Mitchell, who has won WNBL championships with Southside Flyers last year, Canberra Capitals in 2019 and Sydney Uni Flames in 2017, will reunite with coach Tracy York in Bendigo.
The 35-year-old point guard was the co-captain of Adelaide Lightning during York's stint as coach in 2015-16.
Mitchell brings a wealth of WNBL and international experience, and together with the Spirit's first official signing for 2021-22 Tessa Lavey, will form one of the league's most dynamic and potent backcourts.
She is easily one of the most decorated and highest-profile basketballers to suit up in the Spirit's blue and yellow in their 14-year history.
Speaking from Washington DC, where she is in training camp with the WNBA's Mystics, Mitchell was excited to be joining a long-time WNBL rival in Bendigo.
"Obviously my history with Tracy goes back to Adelaide and she's the main reason I decided to come to Bendigo,
"I just enjoyed playing for her when I did that in the past.
"Obviously the Spirit had a rough season last year, but I'm looking forward to us getting a good team in place for this upcoming season and getting the club back on track and back to the winning ways that they have had in the past."
Mitchell said the opportunity to team with fellow Opals squad member Lavey in the backcourt was another great and obvious appeal.
"I love playing with Lavey, she's got speed, quickness and can score and is a great defender," she said.
"Obviously we have never played together in the WNBL, but we have for the Opals.
"I am really looking forward to it, I think we work well together. It will be kind of like having two point guards out on the court.
"We will both be looking out for our team-mates and setting each other up.
"I can play the one or two, the same goes with her. It's exciting and I'm really looking forward to it."
With 12-years worth of experience in the WNBA and more than half-a-dozen in the Australian national league, Mitchell will bring the type of leadership craved by a team looking to reassert itself after a six-year absence from finals.
"I feel like I've been in nearly every situation basketball can give you. And at all different stages, whether it was Olympics, WNBL, WNBA," she said.
"Over the course of all those years, you get familiar with the game and how you can strategise different things.
"Being a point guard, I'm looking to set up my team-mates, looking to make sure we are all on the same page, both offensively and defensively.
"I do want to get into coaching when I finish playing, so I like the tactical side of things and trying to work out how the team is going to mesh and how to best utilise the skills that we have."
An ecstatic Spirit coach Tracy York said Mitchell's signing was great news for the Spirit, the club, and the community.
"We are extremely happy to sign a player like Leilani," she said.
"She brings a wealth of experience from the WNBA, the WNBL and the Opals.
"Leilani is one of the best point guards in the country with her playing ability and natural leadership on and off the floor.
"Having coached Lei a few years ago in the WNBL, I am very excited to be able to coach her again.
"She is arguably one of the biggest player signings in Spirit history."
A four-time WNBL All-Star Five selection, Mitchell averaged 11.2 points and a league-high 6.7 assists in the Flyers' 2020 championship season in the WNBL hub in north Queensland.
She saved the best for last, scoring a game-high 31 points, while going five-for-seven from three-point range and a perfect eight-for-eight at the free-throw line, to be named grand final MVP against Townsville Fire.
Just like her new team-mate and backcourt partner Lavey, Mitchell will be aiming to earn a spot in the Opals squad for this year's Tokyo Olympic Games.
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