Players Busy in Offseason
Indianapolis, Feb. 2, 2004
As the bitter cold chills Indiana, Fever players and coaches are beginning to warm up their game toward the 2004 WNBA season. Here is a look at the players' offseason activities as the calendar moves toward the WNBA Draft, training camp and the beginning of a new summer season.
Off the court, since the naming of Brian Winters as the Fever’s new coach, the biggest news to report has been Tamika Catchings’ invitation by President George Bush to attend his State of the Union Address at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 20. Catchings observed the address from one row behind first lady Laura Bush, and one row in front of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady who was the only other professional athlete invited to the address. Catchings attended a reception at the White House prior to the address; she rode in a police-escorted motorcade to the Capitol; and she enjoyed conversation with George and Laura Bush as part of a photo session immediately following the speech.
“The whole thing was cool – just to be invited to the State of the Union is a once in a lifetime experience,” Catchings said.
Catchings has also gotten back onto the court during the winter months, accepting a contract to play in the National Women’s Basketball League with the Chicago Blaze. The NWBL is a six-team developmental league with a host of WNBA players filling rosters during its three-month schedule between January and March. Catchings contributed 17 points and 10 rebounds during the Blaze’s season opener on Jan. 18 – just hours before embarking on her trip to Washington, D.C.
The Fever’s two-time All-Star will also begin training this spring with U.S. national team members in preparation for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.
Catchings also has a new teammate – a former rival who joined the Fever during the WNBA’s Dispersal Draft on Jan. 6. Former Cleveland Rockers forward Deanna Jackson, a 6-foot-2 product of Alabama-Birmingham, is a potent scoring threat and versatile defender. She averaged 7.1 points and 2.6 rebounds last season for the Rockers, while shooting 41 percent overall, and 41 percent from 3-point range.
Coincidentally, Jackson is playing in the same winter league that featured Catchings last year in Korea. Jackson plays with the Kumho Life Falcons and is a teammate of Charlotte Sting center Tammy Sutton-Brown.
Other Fever teammates that can be found in Indiana are Niele Ivey and Kristen Rasmussen, who host numerous community relations activities with the Fever beginning in January; and college coaches Coquese Washington and Stephanie White.
Ivey has trained in Indianapolis since the end of last season, while raising her two-year old son, Jaden. She was joined on the court in January by Rasmussen, who spent the past two months playing professionally in Spain. Originally from Michigan, Rasmussen often spends weekends with family in her home state, and was honored by her alma mater, Michigan State, at halftime of a game on Jan. 3.
Washington and White, meanwhile, are knee-deep in the college season which culminates with conference and NCAA tournaments in March. Washington, in her sixth season as a Notre Dame assistant coach, has helped guide the Irish to a 12-7 mark through games of Jan. 29. The Irish are 5-2 in the Big East Conference, including a 66-51 home win over then-top ranked Connecticut. Ball State is 10-8 overall and 5-3 in the Mid-American Conference with White in her first season as a Cardinals assistant coach.
White, who suffered a season-ending knee injury at Madison Square Garden last August, has been rehabilitating her knee with Fever trainer Holly Heitzman-Allison, and is expected to be healthy for the beginning of Fever training camp in May.
Others playing abroad this winter include center Leigh Aziz, who continues her first season of international play. After traveling with the USA Basketball Academy through a series of games in China during October, she has settled into a starting role with Bnei Yehuda in Israel’s Women’s League.
Ironically, she is playing beside 2003 Indiana draft choice Detrina White – with White and Aziz the team’s top scorers. Aziz currently averages 15.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game as Bnei Yehuda is 8-6.
Two other Fever centers – Olympia Scott-Richardson and Natalie Williams – have taken opposite routes to and from European basketball careers this winter.
Williams, who signed with UMMC Ekaterinburg of Russia to play in FIBA’s first-ever World Cup event, stayed to play with the Russian club through five EuroLeague games before returning to the United States in December. Williams was the team’s leading rebounder while finishing third at the World Cup. Scott-Richardson, who shared a house with Ivey in Indianapolis, left in January for a winter season in Spain.
With Scott-Richardson, two other Fever players remain in Europe this winter – Bridget Pettis and Kelly Schumacher.
Pettis is a perennial star in the Italian League, returning this winter to average a team-leading 16.6 ppg with Carichieti Cus Chieti. In 12 EuroLeague contests, Pettis leads her team with 21 assists and 25 steals, and is second with 84 rebounds. Carichieti is currently 2-10 in Group A of EuroLeague’s qualifying round – which is led by Williams’ former Russian club team at 9-3.
Schumacher is the only foreign player for her club team, Erdemirspor, of Zonguldak, Turkey. She is the team’s top scorer and second-leading rebounder through six games of Europe Cup competition, averaging 12.8 ppg and 8.2 rpg.
Veteran Nikki McCray remains in her offseason home of Knoxville, Tenn., where she administers her own daycare center called All-Star Kids. Reserve point guard Sonja Henning practices law in Portland, Ore. Second-year guard Coretta Brown, a WNBA participant in the World Cup in October, played a series of college exhibition games with Team Concept, a touring team of former pro and college players. She has trained near her home of Statesboro, Ga., during much of the offseason.