Fever Duo Shares Special Bond

June 20, 2008 | by Lesley Dyan George

Frank McGrath / PS&E Photo
May 31 – Inside the Fever locker room shortly after a defeat to the Detroit Shock, Coach Lin Dunn addresses her team. The mood is solemn, all eyes and ears are focused on the coach. From around a corner, brief whispers are heard from within the same room. The soft interruption doesn’t cease, yet there is no acknowledgement of the perceived interruption. A look from around the corner reveals Allison Feaster speaking softly to Bernadette Ngoyisa. A closer listen reveals the faint sounds of a foreign tongue being spoken between them.

June 15 – In front of the Fever bench just moments before the opening tip, Lin Dunn addresses her starters in a small huddle, 15 feet from the Indiana bench as they make their way to the center jump. In the middle of the huddle is a non-starter, Allison Feaster, clad still in her bright yellow shooting top, as she speaks softly to first-time starter Bernadette Ngoyisa.

May 27 – The Fever practice at Connecticut College is a spirited one, with a newcomer, Bernadette Ngoyisa, joining the club just hours after her arrival in the United States. Repeatedly, on one end of the floor or the other, and with the full team or a small group of just post players, drills are started and stopped as Feaster repeats coaching instructions in French – relaying them to the 6-4 newcomer from overseas.

Both of them Fever newcomers, Allison Feaster and Bernadette Ngoyisa met for the first time on the morning of May 27, at Gate 3 of the Terminal A in the Indianapolis Airport. They’d played against each other in the WNBA, and overseas, but had never been teammates prior to their arrivals in Indianapolis.

By accident, and by necessity, they have become close associates in their first seasons with the Indiana Fever – with Feaster filling an unexpected role as team translator.

Ever since their first airport meeting when Feaster instinctively took over Ngoyisa’s introduction to new teammates and coaches, they have shared a special relationship.

Ngoyisa, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, primarily speaks French. Feaster, the Harvard grad who speaks French in addition to English, Spanish and German, helps translate and enable communication within the entire club.

If Ngoyisa is requested for a community appearance, Feaster is at her side.

If Bernie, as she is called by her teammates, is requested for a media interview, Feaster is requested, as well.

Walking through airports, visiting restaurants, and whenever and wherever translation may be needed, Feaster and Ngoyisa can often be found side-by-side.

In financial meetings or other team meetings, yes, Feaster and Ngoyisa can usually be found together.

“It's been difficult at times, but basketball language is easy to understand,” said Ngoyisa in a recent interview, via Feaster, of course. “The game is universal, and the style of play here is similar to what I'm used to.”

Feaster has played overseas in Spain, France and Portugal. Her fluency in various languages has benefited not only herself but her friendly teammate.

Feaster says that Ngoyisa, who is averaging 4.9 points per game for the Fever, is outgoing and tries to speak with teammates in English behind closed doors. Often, she is seen dancing, singing and smiling. Fever teammates marvel at her enthusiasm, but still seek Feaster for extended conversation.

Ngoyisa said, “The team chemistry is what I like most about the Fever. Everyone makes the effort to understand and communicate with me. It helps me feel relaxed and comfortable.”

In addition to French, Ngoyisa also speaks Italian and several African dialects. Her professional experiences include playing in the U.S., France and Italy. She’s also played on the Democratic Republic of Congo’s national team.

Like Ngoyisa, the majority of Fever players compete overseas during the winter months, where many of them must adapt to customs and languages of other parts of the world, not at all unlike Bernie’s current situation.

Says Katie Douglas, who has played recently in Spain and Lithuania, and who will venture to Russia this winter, “You have to adapt when you’re in a foreign country. We’re all like that when we’re overseas. You latch on to anyone who speaks English. Usually it’s another teammate. I’ll actually have a translator in Russia. Sometimes you don’t hear everything, but you hope you are hearing what is important.”

Feaster often finds herself translating for American players abroad, too.

“Becoming accustomed to the culture and language is all a part of the experience playing overseas. Without a doubt, knowing multiple languages has helped me along the way,” said Feaster.

Feaster and Ngoyisa’s bond is bound to flourish as the Fever continues its season.

“We received a warm welcome from Kelly [Krauskopf], Lin [Dunn], the assistant coaches and the entire club,” said Feaster. “The fan base is especially loyal here with the Fever.”

And so, the next time a fan wonders, “Why are there six players in that huddle,” as the starting five makes its way onto the floor, that’s The Translator and Bernie, acting as one. It is the impact of colliding cultures, and the camaraderie shared by new friends and new teammates with a common language.