Coach Deni Christensen of Aliso Niguel High School doesn’t get giddy. In fact, after years coaching at the college and high school level, she has seen her share of fine athletes. But when she saw Deanna Mitchelson walking on campus, she felt a touch of glee.
“When I saw Deanna, I thought to myself, ‘I sure hope that girl plays basketball,’ ” Christensen said. After approaching Mitchelson, she asked her if she had plans to go out for the team.
“She asked me if I was the coach,” Christensen said. “When I said yes, she told me she was looking for me.”
But while she was happy, after Christensen saw her on the court, she looked to the heavens and smiled.
“Once in a while, the gods of basketball smile on coaches and give them a gifted athlete. Deanna is probably the best athlete I’ve ever seen.”
At 14, Mitchelson stands 6 feet 2 and has the agility of a cat. Her experience with a basketball comes from two years of playing junior high ball in Bloomington, Ill.
“I guess I was pretty good back in Bloomington,” said Mitchelson, who averaged 15 points a game. “It was just some junior high school leagues. And It was fun.”
But after coming to California last summer, the first thing she noticed was that the Golden State takes its basketball seriously.
“Yeah, it seems all sports are taken much more seriously. But I think that’s good,” she said. While she played exclusively at center in Bloomington, Mitchelson will be shifting between center and forward for Aliso Niguel.
A hard worker on the court, Christensen said that for someone so young, Mitchelson has shown a lot of discipline and poise. So much so that her teammates have made her captain.
“Her parents thought it might be too much for her to be a captain in her freshman year,” Christensen said. “But when you see her on the court, you can see why it’s a natural to have her be a captain.”
Said Mitchelson: “It’s a big change. I’m excited but not nervous.”
Calling herself a “loud screamer,” Mitchelson insists that it’s a positive scream. “I always try to encourage my teammates,” she said. “I guess my scream can get a little loud sometimes.”
Christensen, who coached for El Toro High and Rancho Santiago College and was an assistant at Cal State Fullerton, said Mitchelson is mature.
“When I first saw her, I had no idea she was a freshman. In my 14 years of coaching, I’ve never seen anyone as complete as Deanna,” Christensen said.
And though Mitchelson is excited about being captain, she is looking forward more to playing for a new school. It’s a school with no senior class; in fact, the bulk of the team is made up of freshmen. Because the school is so new, the Wolverines will play a freelance schedule. But next year, they’ll be part of the Pacific Coast League.
“It’s going to be exciting to see what a new school can do,” Mitchelson said.
Though her coach thinks Mitchelson will undoubtedly be one of the top freshmen this season, Mitchelson said there is still room for improvement.
“I guess I’m pretty good inside. But I have to learn to dribble a lot better than I do now,” she said.
But her coach isn’t worried. “It’s not like she’s graduating next year. We have four years to work on it,” Christensen said.