Larkins Thriving In Indiana

By Greg Rappaport | July 18, 2014

To some, rebounding looks like a chaotic and random occurrence. The ball caroms off the rim and a sea of entangled arms lurch for it. Who hauls it in seems as arbitrary as who catches the bouquet flung from a bride’s hand. This belief, however, wouldn’t explain how Erlana Larkins is so often the one with the ball when the dust settles.

For Larkins, now in her fourth WNBA season, the road from high school star in Florida to a 2012 WNBA Champion with the Indiana Fever has been as rough as a rebound scrum.

While playing for the Benjamin School in North Palm Beach, Larkins rewrote the school’s record books by scoring over 3,000 points. Her do-all style of play drew the attention of legendary University of North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell.

But despite exemplary performances on the court as a member of the Tar Heels, Hatchell was concerned Erlana might be surrounded by the wrong crowd.

“Off the court, she had a lot of distractions,” Hatchell said. “Sometimes I would talk to her about who she surrounded herself with. I’d say ‘Erlana, honey look, everyone who calls you friend is not your friend.’”

Larkins admitted that sometimes the groups she hung out with in college weren’t the best influence, but never thought it was quite as serious as Hatchell believed.

“As a kid, you’re just meeting people from different states and you might hang out with some of the wrong people, but at the end of the day it’s all about you,” Larkins said.

After a stellar senior season in which Larkins averaged 12.9 points and 9.4 rebounds per game for UNC, she was selected 14th overall in the 2008 WNBA Draft by the New York Liberty. The transition to WNBA life, however, proved difficult for Larkins, who at 6-foot-1 was a tad undersized for the center position.

After a lackluster rookie campaign with the Liberty in which she averaged just 2.7 rebounds per game, Larkins was waived by the team midway through the following season. Just two years into her professional career, Larkins was seeing everything she had worked for slip away.

“Coming into the league, I made a couple of mistakes,” Larkins explained. “Not even basketball wise, just personal mistakes. That, I think, really hurt me.”

She had gone from the best player in her high school’s history, to one of the ACC’s most dominant athletes, but now, Larkins was struggling to find a roster spot.

She got another opportunity to make the league again with the Phoenix Mercury in 2011, but was waived once again. For a player who had once showed limitless potential, Larkins was running out of chances.

Luckily, a 40-year-old friendship between Fever coach Lin Dunn and Sylvia Hatchell helped give Larkins her third chance in the league—this chance, she would not let slip away.

“Lin Dunn and I have a very good relationship,” said Hatchell, who championed Erlana’s abilities to coach Dunn. “Lin gave Erlana a chance, and that was a good fit. Lin Dunn and Indianapolis was a good fit for Erlana Larkins, because not everybody was willing to give Erlana a chance like Lin did.”

Signed to a training camp contract in 2012, Larkins played in all 34 games for the Fever, contributing in nearly all facets of the game. Her play was so inspired down the stretch that Dunn slid her in the starting rotation for nine of the Fever’s 10 playoff games, something Larkins had only done twice over the course of the regular season.

In a deciding Game 3 against Atlanta in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Larkins recorded her first career double-double, contributing 16 points and an awe-inspiring 20 rebounds—the second most in WNBA postseason history.

As the Fever rushed the court to celebrate their first-ever WNBA Championship in franchise history, Larkins might not have realized it at the time, but she had found her place in the league.

Now an everyday starter for the Fever, Larkins is second in the WNBA with 9.6 rebounds per game and second in the league in field goal percentage, shooting an efficient 60.3%.

As far as teammates go, there is no one quite like Larkins.

“When she steps across that line, she is tremendously focused,” Hatchell explained. “If I was ever in a foxhole, I’d want Erlana Larkins in that foxhole with me, and if I could describe her in one word, it would be warrior. She has a warrior mentality.”

As Larkins was explaining her rebounding in a tunnel at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, coach Dunn strolled by and patted her on the shoulder. “There’s my warrior!” Dunn shouted.

When two teams waived her from their rosters, Larkins kept doing what she does best—fighting for every ball and never giving an inch.

“Things come full circle,” said Larkins, with her ever-present smile, “And hey, I’m a champion now—no one can take that away from me.”