Breaking Barriers: Adrian Mitchell
By: Jordan Cronan
Growing up 40 miles east of Lawrence, Kansas, the thought never crossed former Kansas women’s basketball forward Adrian Mitchell’s mind that she could one day play basketball at the University of Kansas. Little did Mitchell know, she would become one of the greatest to wear a Kansas jersey.
Being the first Kansas player and one of only two Jayhawks to score 2,000 career points and grab 1,000 career rebounds, Mitchell is second all-time in the KU record books in both scoring (2,124) and rebounds (1,288).
Mitchell may never have made it to Kansas, however, if Head Coach Marian Washington hadn’t walked into the gym ready to recruit another athlete. Mitchell impressed Washington with her skills on the court during a tournament with her AAU team.
“I was lucky to be on the court that day when coach came to scout someone else,” Mitchell said.
There weren’t a lot of opportunities for women to be recognized by college coaches, since Central High School didn’t fund women’s athletics. So there was no hesitation to play for a trailblazing coach when the opportunity came around.
“When I first was recruited by Marian Washington, her being an African-American coach and athletic director at a major university, it was something I really looked up to and was proud to be a part of,” Mitchell said.
During a time when young, aspiring female athletes didn’t have a lot of role models at that level of athletics, Washington’s ability to teach and coach the game was appealing to every young athlete who came through her doors.
“She was so knowledgeable and skilled and she passed that along to us as we soaked it all up,” Mitchell said. “It was just a privilege to be around her, much less be coached by her.”
The opportunity to continue her education and athletic career after high school was never brought to her attention. Although Mitchell met with high school counselors every year, college was never brought up to her as an option.
“I may have been off in another world, but I didn’t think other black people like me had the opportunity to go,” Mitchell said. “I had good grades and was in the upper tier of my class, but it was never discussed with me what I thought about college or even if I wanted to go.”
It was an easy decision to become a Jayhawk and continue playing the game she loved after thinking that her basketball career was going to end after high school. Mitchell helped lead Kansas to a 76-48 record and a Big Eight Championship, and became one of four women to have their jersey retired in the rafters of Allen Fieldhouse.
Mitchell earned two All-Big Eight honors and was twice named a Wade Trophy finalist during her Kansas career. She was invited to try out for the World University Games team in 1977 and was selected as a 1978 NWIT All-American.
Mitchell was drafted by the Chicago Hustle of the Women’s Basketball League (WBL) in 1979 (in the pre-WNBA era) and named an All-Star in 1980.
“I never thought I would be at the University of Kansas to play basketball, putting up the numbers that I did and having my jersey retired,” Mitchell said. “My advice would be that when opportunities arise for you, take advantage of them, look them square in the face and go at it.”
This month, as we celebrate Black History Month, we also celebrate some of our all-time great athletes and the accomplishments they achieved while representing the University of Kansas.
“Black History Month means to me where we were, not only as athletes, but as people, way back in time and to the point where we are now,” Mitchell said. “It’s a progression and we’ve come a long way. That’s not saying we don’t have further to go, but we’ve come a long way both as people and as athletes.”
Adrian Mitchell, along with Marian Washington and so many more, have helped pave the way for the progress yet to come by athletes, coaches and leaders in all aspects of sports.
KUAthletics.com: The official online source for Kansas Athletics, Williams Education Fund contributions, tickets, merchandise, multimedia, photos and much, much more.