When Mimi Thiero’s parents decided to introduce her to basketball, her interest didn’t quite match their excitement to teach. The basketball-crazed family, which included Mimi’s older brother, would spend 12 hours in the gym somedays.
“She would never touch a basketball,” said her father, Al. “Mimi would bring her dolls and play with her dolls. She was into princesses. I’m like, ‘We’re going to have a hard time getting her to play basketball.’ I didn’t think it was going to happen, so we let it be. We didn’t force it on her.”
But when some of Mimi’s friends decided to start playing when she was in fourth grade, she chose to follow suit. Five years later, daddy’s princess has developed into one of the top basketball prospects in Western Pennsylvania.
Mimi Thiero is a 6-foot-3 freshman at Quaker Valley High School and the next big thing in WPIAL basketball. Thiero, just 15 years old, might be labeled by some as a “unicorn” due to her rare combination of height, skills and athleticism.
“Someone with that size, that athleticism, and eventually her ability to score from anywhere on the floor, I don’t know, I can’t say I’m a WPIAL basketball historian, but I’ve watched a lot. Her potential is pretty high,” Quaker Valley coach Ken Johns said.
Thiero’s actual name is Oumou. She was named after her paternal grandmother. Thiero’s parents, Al and Mariam, are natives of Mali. Both played college basketball and both are very tall. Al is 6-10 and Mariam 6-2. Mariam was selected in the 2006 WNBA Draft. If the last name sounds familiar, that’s because Mimi’s brother is Adou Thiero, a former Quaker Valley star who is now a freshman at the University of Kentucky. They have two other siblings, both girls. Nadiya is 7 and Yassa is 3.
Mimi, whose family lives in the Quaker Heights neighborhood of Sewickley, is 7 inches taller than Adou was in his freshman season. Adou was 5-8 but has since grown to 6-6 following a huge growth spurt late in high school. Al told the story of the family finding out Mimi was taller than Adou, which was the case for about six months in 2019.
“We took a picture and when we looked at it, we saw that Mimi was taller,” Al recalled. “That whole vacation was done. Adou went back to his room. He didn’t even come out of his room to eat. That was it. He was so mad.”
Mimi was quick to answer the question of what are the best and worst things about being a 6-foot-3 15-year-old girl.
“Buying clothes is the worst part, but the best is playing basketball. I can use my height,” said Thiero, whose father said he expects her to grow to 6-5 or 6-6.
Can she ever. That height is obviously the first thing that sticks out about Thiero. She’s 6 inches taller than the next tallest person on the team, and she has used that height to help produce some outstanding numbers during the early part of her freshman season. Thiero is averaging 14 points, 11 rebounds, 4 blocks and 2.5 assists a game. She missed a few games with a sprained right ankle but is now back at full strength for the Quakers (7-4), who notched their fifth win in a row Monday.
“It’s been great,” senior guard Nora Johns said of playing with Thiero. “We didn’t have her for a few games, which was tough. But I feel like we learned a lot about ourselves as players. We got better individually, and then we added her into the equation. So now having her back, it’s just been so easy. I feel like we’ve been really evenly scoring, which is great.”
Johns’ excitement for playing with Thiero tipped off when the two played with together for the first time over the summer.
“I was like, ‘Wow, this is great, someone to get rebounds and kick it out to me,’” Johns said, smiling.
Thiero has been working on trying to dunk a basketball. One of her goals is to throw one down during a game. She’s tried in practices. For now she can only touch the rim. Johns said she wouldn’t be surprised if Thiero gets there next season.
But Thiero’s game is about much more than getting rebounds or just being tall. In Monday’s 70-23 win against Ambridge, Thiero’s athleticism and skill set was on display. She ran the court like a gazelle and even brought the ball up sometimes. Thiero showed off a pretty stroke from the perimeter when she knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner. She’s also a very willing passer. Overall, Quaker Valley shared the ball exceptionally well, but Thiero was particularly impressive as she showed off her vision and unselfishness. She finished with 13 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists and a blocked shot while spending time playing in the post and on the wing. That came in less than three quarters of action due to the lopsided score and a running clock.
“We’re trying to do not only what’s best for the team but also keep in mind what’s best for her moving forward,” Ken Johns said. “I think she’s going to be a wing in college, so we don’t want to have her just play with her back to the basket. Now, I think she needs to work on that and learn it because it will help her, so we do spend time on that.”
The college interest in Thiero could eventually become massive, but for now it’s pretty silent on the recruiting front. Thiero has not received an offer as of yet, but it might not be long before local schools Pitt and Duquesne throw their name in the hat. Thiero is part of a very strong freshmen class in the WPIAL that also includes Shady Side Academy’s Karis Thomas and Maggie Spell and Greensburg Central Catholic’s Erica Gribble. Quaker Valley played Shady Side Academy last month, but Thiero missed the game with the injury.
Al Thiero played college basketball at Memphis and Duquesne. Mariam played at Oklahoma City University, where she was named an NAIA All-American. Mimi may have passed up mom on the growth chart last year, but she said she still looks up to her parents a lot.
“They’ve been a big influence,” Mimi said. “They’ve always pushed me to play basketball more.”
Mimi said her ultimate goal is to reach the same level of basketball as her mom.
“WNBA,” she said without hesitation.
And for those who have played alongside her, that goal, as big as it is, seems attainable.
“I see her becoming great,” Nora Johns said. “She’s playing so well, and she’s only a freshman. I keep forgetting she has three years ahead of her and she’s going to improve so much through this season and AAU. She’s constantly working so hard. I really see her becoming a great basketball player.”