In the 2014-2015 season, the North Texas women’s basketball team hit rock bottom as it finished 5-24, good for second to last in C-USA in what was the program’s ninth straight losing season. However, the previous five seasons have seen the program transform into a respectable competitor, and this has been in large part due to the hiring of former star player Jalie Mitchell as head coach.
The Mean Green (13-6, C-USA 10-4) have improved every year under Mitchell leading to her accepting a recent contract extension approved by the North Texas board of regents. To Mitchell, the key to her success has been gathering the right people around her, not just her players but also that staff.
“Make sure you have the right people, not just the team. The staff and everyone needs to share a common goal and the vision needs to be clear,” Mitchell said. “I believe we have worked hard toward our goals every single year and when you do that and are consistent … you get to a point where you can get better opportunities.”
Mitchell is one of the more decorated players in women’s basketball history, being the all-time leading scorer and a four-time all-conference selection from 1998-2002. While these accolades may showcase her offensive prowess, Mitchell herself believes herself to be a defensive savant, which shows up on the teams she has coached over the past couple of seasons.
In the 2017-2018 season, the team had one of the best defenses in the country, holding opponents to a franchise-best 56.2 points per game. While this season sees the team as only the fifth-best scoring defense in the country, North Texas makes up for that by holding opponents to a conference-best 26.6 percent on 3-pointers.
“I’m definitely more of a defensive-minded head coach,” Mitchell said. “That’s just how I was as a player, and it kind of just carried over.”
While improving the overall game of the team is important to Mitchell, she believes that the most important thing she has figured out in her coaching experience is the ability to forge relationships with people, which she learned as an assistant coach at the University of Texas in Austin.
“There is a lot that goes into building people, growing people,” Mitchell said.”That was probably my favorite piece of advice…just making sure we did not focus on just the game.”
The effect of this ripples throughout the organization, as both players and coaches speak glowingly of her pleasant character. The first thing assistant coach Durmon Jennings noticed while working with her was Mitchell’s willingness to take into consideration the thoughts and feelings of anyone willing to speak their mind.
“She listens, man. She listens to her girls, she listens to her coaching staff,” Jennings said.”That’s the very first thing I noticed. This woman listens to everything we are saying and she’s truly considering it all.”
Redshirt senior Madison Townley says that Mitchell’s personality is part of the reason she had decided to commit to North Texas in the first place.
“She reminded me of my high school coach, and that’s kind of one of the reasons I chose this school,” Townley said. “She is very personable and cares about her players.”
Another thing Jennings is mystified by is Mitchell’s ability to stay calm and collected at all times, despite the stress that her job inevitably brings her.
“I’m still trying to figure it out, but she does a really good job of staying level,” Jennings said. “She doesn’t get too high, she does not get too low.”
When preparing for games the coach has always been about focusing on preparation above everything else, as she believes preparation breeds confidence. While Mitchell acknowledges that pressure exists, she says that giving her team the right preparation will strip away that doubt that may be lingering within her players’ minds.
“I think when you are prepared, pressure does not exist,” Mitchell said. “I just try to make sure that we are prepared and confident because with those two things we can put our best foot forward and beat anybody.”
Featured Image: Head Coach Jalie Mitchell coaches the Mean Green after they miss a defensive assignment against the University of North Carolina at Charlotte on March 11, 2020. Image by Zachary Thomas