Champion Fever Keeping Draft Options Open

April 11, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Fever basketball club, reigning champion of the WNBA, will take a slightly different approach in its selection process for the 2013 college draft.

In recent drafts, the team typically targeted a specific need. Last year, it was a center, and the Fever chose Georgia Tech's 6-foot-5 Sasha Goodlett in the first round. In 2011, Indiana sought a perimeter player and took Stanford guard Jeanette Pohlen.

On Monday night, in the WNBA's first prime-time draft from Bristol, Conn., Indiana officials will clutch their confidential list of three or four desired draftees and hope at least one falls to them as the top eight picks play out. Then the Fever, picking at No. 9, will announce its 2013 first-rounder.

A guard? Maybe.

A forward? Perhaps.

A post player? Could be.

In other words, Kelly Krauskopf, Indiana's president and general manager, is keeping her options open.

“This particular year, it's the cliché of getting the best player you can possibly get, regardless of position,” Krauskopf said. “My mindset is, we don't have a specific (need).”

As Krauskopf and Indiana coach Lin Dunn will emphasize, it's not that the Fever is conflicted over its 2013 plan and execution. Team brass has devoted endless hours to identifying prospects whose talents fit nicely in Indiana's scheme.

The point now is to be flexible and aim for that player at No. 9 who can best improve a roster that returns essentially intact from last season's stirring championship run.

“It's looking for the best all-around player,” said Dunn, whose Fever eliminated Minnesota in four games of the 2012 WNBA Finals. “Does she have skills, does she have the toughness to play in the WNBA? Can she play more than one position? It doesn't have to a post, doesn't have to be a perimeter player. This just needs to be the best player available.”

Krauskopf does say a best-case scenario for Indiana would involve the opportunity to draft a strong backup for Finals MVP Tamika Catchings at power forward. “Another power forward who can guard (small forwards and power forwards), someone who can run the floor, face up and rebound,” Krauskopf said.

But Indiana, which also holds the 21st and 33rd overall picks in the second and third rounds, won't limit itself as the draft unfolds. It's a draft, Krauskopf said, that is fairly deep overall and especially bountiful with guards and wing players.

Brittney Griner, Baylor's 6-8 center, is a virtual lock to go to Phoenix on the first pick. The next two players expected to come off the board are Notre Dame guard Skylar Diggins and Delaware guard/forward Elena Della Donne, one going to Chicago and the other to Tulsa.

“It's a one-of-a-kind draft with those three at the top,” Dunn said. “If all three weren't in the same class, each could be a first pick in any other draft.”

After the top three, the field opens up. One late entry is Texas A&M's 6-4 Kelsey Bone, who recently decided to enter the draft and should be a first-rounder. Krauskopf is an A&M alum.

Besides Diggins, two other Indiana natives are potential first-round selections. Indianapolis Heritage Christian's 5-11 Kelly Faris was a vital contributor and defensive standout as Connecticut captured the NCAA title. Indianapolis Ben Davis' Alex Bentley, a 5-7 point guard, enjoyed a standout career at Penn State. She worked as an intern in the Fever offices in 2012.

Krauskopf and Dunn like Faris because of her Connecticut pedigree, work ethic and knack for always making the right play. Krauskopf said Bentley shows the moxie of a sound pro point guard. And Diggins, according to the Fever GM, is “just at another level because of her savvy. She has that mentality that just kind of raises everybody up.”

The Fever's three draftees will join a team that opens training camp on May 5 and begins the regular season on May 24. An Indiana club that finished the 2012 regular season at 22-12 will return a core group that carried it to playoff series victories over Atlanta and Connecticut before knocking off the Lynx.

Veteran center Tammy Sutton-Brown remains an unsigned free agent. Pohlen, who underwent knee surgery, isn't expected to be ready for the start of Indiana's season. The rest of the squad should arrive at camp in good health and, Dunn hopes, seeking another championship ring.

“Whenever you win a championship, I think the real challenge is that you don't allow anyone to be satisfied,” Dunn said. “What we did last year was great, but we now have to get that hunger back, that tremendous desire to do it again and be the best that we can be again. We have to figure out a way to be better than we were when we beat Minnesota in the Finals. We have to set that tone from Day One.”

The Finals performance against Minnesota, which brought Indianapolis its first pro basketball championship since the Pacers won the ABA in 1973, won't soon be forgotten. The Fever rose up and completed their mission without Katie Douglas, the team's second-best scorer, who suffered a severely sprained ankle that required off-season surgery.

Catchings won her Finals MVP honors by averaging 22.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists. Erin Phillips shot .519 (15-of-29) from the 3-point arc. Erlana Larkins totaled 48 rebounds in four games. Shavonte Zellous averaged 17 points in the Finals after recording a 7.5 mark during the regular season.

Fever fans, especially those who were in a sellout crowd that witnessed the Game 4 elimination of Minnesota, still revel in the team's 2012 success. And that's a good thing, as long as the players don't let it hinder their 2013 plan.

“When we tip it off on May 24 this year, 2012 is a distant memory,” Krauskopf said. “You're now at Game 1 into the new season. It will be a challenge to make sure everybody finds a way to individually be a better player so we can be a better team.”

And one key to getting better could well be landing the right player in Monday's draft.