Around the world and back again

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 28, 2013

By Kimberly Hopson

LAPLACE – Basketball has taken former St. James High standout Ariel Mitchell around the world, but now she may be trading the court for the laboratory.
Until recently, Mitchell was a member of the Harlem Globetrotters.
Mitchell, who stands just 5-feet-5-inches, said her cousin, Craig Duronslet, was the inspiration behind her adoption of the sport. The cousins were the same age, and Mitchell said her cousin thought it was “pretty cool” to have a female cousin that was better at the game than some of his friends. Duronslet always encouraged her and taught her new moves. The two are still close.
“I would see him play all the time, and I thought ‘I can do that.’ So I just started playing with him, and I developed a love of the game. You just couldn’t get a basketball out of my hands because I just loved playing. I played everyday,” said Mitchell.
The young girl continued her dedication to the sport by joining her local Biddy Basketball team. Though her disposition is steadfastly confident, Mitchell said she faced sex discrimination at this point. Mitchell said there was no sex separation for teams at the time, so she played with girls and boys. Children were handpicked by their coaches to play for the Allstars, a special team that travelled to play teams in other areas. Mitchell said she was never chosen for the Allstars though she was better than half of her male teammates. She was just 8 years old.
Mitchell still remembers the slight but didn’t let it affect her love for the sport.
“I will never ever forget…I kind of felt sorry for myself for a second, but then I said, I’m not going to feel sorry for myself. That’s just going to motivate me to want to be better and continue working on my game,” she said.
Mitchell is grateful for her high school basketball coach, Annie Blanchard, who acted as mentor and honed  her natural talent. Mitchell took what she learned from Blanchard and developed a dream to play professional ball overseas.
“It was my first year playing real organized basketball, and it was her first year coaching there. She was a person that really discovered I had talent, and she’s the one who built that mentality in me as a player. I already had good skills, but she taught me how to be a great player, how to be motivated and how to work hard,” said Mitchell.
The 24-year-old took her career on to college, where she played basketball for Dillard University. After her graduation and a short break from the game, she decided to further her sports career and acquired an agent, who secured her audition for the Harlem Globetrotters. Globetrotter games emphasize fun and showboating, but Mitchell said the audition was no piece of cake.
“There were like, 10 guys and another girl. We played five-on-five, and I felt like I had a disadvantage because the guys were so tall and so fast. But I never felt sorry for myself for one second. I just played my game and played as hard as I could, and they liked what they saw,” said Mitchell.
Her endurance and fearlessness during the audition earned Mitchell her trademark Globetrotter nickname.
“They said I was a great shooter and gave me the nickname ‘Mighty’ because I would never back down. I was only 5-foot-5-inches, but I played like I was 6 feet tall,” she said.
The Globetrotters’ tour schedule was grueling—Mitchell said the team played one, sometimes two, games a day for about five months straight, beginning immediately after Christmas. Her unit did two months in the United States and two months abroad. Mitchell eventually opted to leave the Globetrotters after her first season to accomplish her ultimate goal of playing professional basketball overseas. The young woman enjoyed her experience despite her hectic schedule.
“It would’ve taken me a lifetime of savings to see that many countries in that short a time, so I was really blessed to be able to play with them,” she said.
From there, the agent secured a contract with Sweden’s Visby Ladies. Mitchell was hit a sudden bout of  what may have been homesickness after just a couple of weeks. She decided to retire from the game but said the decision wasn’t that hard. Mitchell’s family was supportive because they were happy she wouldn’t have to be so far away.
“I sat down and I was like, I really miss my family. I don’t want to be gone any more. I want to be there for birthday parties and holidays, so I decided this wasn’t for me anymore,” said Mitchell.
The Dillard University graduate is currently using her time to pursue a career in her field of study, science, with an emphasis in public health. Mitchell said her ideal job would be doing testing for a chemical lab. She is also willing to relocate even though she loves her home. Mitchell said she still plays pick-up games with friends on occasion though she’s changed her focus. She has no regrets about her decision.
“Of course I miss playing professionally, but at this point in my life I’m OK with moving on with my career,” she said, with her characteristic confidence.
But there may be no need for regret, since the sky is the limit for a talented young lady with both brawn and brains.