Fever short on healthy players but not tenacity

By Tom Rietmann | May 23, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Fever will open the 2013 WNBA season with a significantly depleted roster but also an abundance of resolve.

The Indiana team, after gaining approval from the league this week to sign a temporary replacement player, will head into Friday night's season opener at San Antonio with nine in uniform. Sound familiar? That's exactly how many the Fever suited up for last season's WNBA Finals, when Indiana beat Minnesota and captured its first league title.

“We have people who are able to step up,” Fever star Tamika Catchings said this week, addressing her team's short-handed roster. “Coming off last year, knowing what everybody is capable of doing, we're just kind of feeding off that. And we'll be a better team at the end for having given (some younger reserves) experience early on.”

Indiana is dealing with injuries to three key reserves, all of whom could be out until midseason. Guard Jeanette Pohlen is rehabilitating from off-season knee surgery. Center Jessica Davenport has a tibia stress fracture. Guard Erin Phillips underwent arthroscopic knee surgery this week for a meniscus tear.

For the opener at San Antonio, the Fever also will be without rookie guard Layshia Clarendon, who will be going through her graduation ceremonies at the University of California. In Clarendon's absence, Indiana hopes to temporarily re-sign forward Jasmine Hassell (waived on Wednesday), assuming she clears waivers before Friday night's game.

Clarendon, the Fever's top draft pick, will return to play in the home opener against Atlanta on May 31. That will keep Indiana's roster at nine, plus the three injured players.

After the first two regular-season games, the Fever has the option of seeking a roster exemption and picking up a 10th healthy player until Pohlen, Davenport or Phillips can return. However, when one of those veterans does come back, the replacement must be waived.

Roster gyrations notwithstanding, the Fever is approaching 2013 with its season goals still firmly in grasp. And those are topped by the team's push to become the first since the 2001-02 Los Angeles Sparks to repeat as league champion.

“It's not how you start the season, it's how you finish,” said Kelly Krauskopf, the Fever's president and general manager. “We have a long way to go. People are going to get better and people are going to get healthy.

“We had very good luck with our health, for the most part, all season last year. Until we got to the playoffs, that is, but then there was that whole resiliency factor of the group that we had. It just goes to show, you can't live off of what happened yesterday. Every year has a new challenge and new approach, and this is certainly starting off that way.”

For this week's game at San Antonio, Indiana Coach Lin Dunn is tweaking her plan as needed.

“The biggest challenge is just knowing that people have to play out of position. Your roles have to change,” Dunn said.

For example, Katie Douglas will play at both point guard and shooting guard. Shavonte Zellous will have to be ready to play both guards or a forward spot. Karima Chrismas will be a reserve at both guard and forward.

Again, that's where versatility and resolve come in -- the same kind that garnered the WNBA title in 2012.

“It's the hand you're dealt,” Dunn said. “We're certainly not going into (Friday night's) game expecting anything other than a victory.”