Indiana team heads into highly competitive camp

By Tom Rietmann | May 10, 2011

As Lin Dunn prepares to welcome her Indiana Fever players to the start of  their 2011 training camp, two expectations stand out for the head coach.

            One is the sense of normalcy that should prevail this year after the team's 2010 camp was disrupted by the absence of four starters. And another will be the ferocious competitiveness of this season's session at Conseco Fieldhouse, which begins Sunday.

            “I don't remember having a camp with this much depth,” said Dunn, whose WNBA coaching career dates to 2000 with the Seattle Storm. “All 15 players in camp have WNBA potential. It's hard for me to say, 'These are the 11 who will make the team.' ''

            A normalcy will come from having all of the team's veterans on hand. Last year, starters Tamika Catchings, Katie Douglas, Tammy Sutton-Brown and Ebony Hoffman missed the entire training process while they finished their overseas seasons. This time, with the return to a June start for the WNBA regular season, Catchings, Douglas and Sutton-Brown will be rested and ready for camp and the opener on June 4. Hoffman is now in Los Angeles, having signed there as a free agent.

            Indiana finished 21-13 last year and lost to New York in the postseason's first round. The Fever's off-season goal, then, was to add depth and rebounding ability so the team could repeat its 2009 advancement to the WNBA Finals.

            Dunn and Kelly Krauskopf, the team's chief operating officer and general manager, have brought together an experienced group, with first-round draft pick Jeanette Pohlen as the only true rookie in camp.

            “You could probably pencil in eight or nine spots that are taken,” Dunn said. “That leaves two or three spots where there will be an enormous amount of competition.”

            Shyra Ely, a former Indianapolis Ben Davis star who played at Tennessee, has signed with the Fever. She “has a legitimate chance to make the team,” Dunn said, because she plays both forward positions.

            Two players have joined the Fever via trades -- Erin Phillips from Seattle and Tangela Smith from Phoenix.

            Phillips, a native of Australia, is expected to challenge at the point guard position vacated when  her fellow Aussie, Tully Bevilaqua, departed for  San Antonio in free agency after six seasons in Indianapolis.

            “Tully has been a big part of our team both as a player and a leader,” Dunn said. “I think we're looking to see who's going to step into that role. I know Briann January will be considered. Erin Phillips, that's why we brought her into camp. We'll also take a close look at Shannon Bobbitt and Jeanette Pohlen.

            “Who's going to be the leader on the floor as far as the point guard for our team?” the coach said. “That will be addressed from Day One.”

            The Fever ranked seventh in WNBA rebounding last year. Their goal for 2011 is to ascend to the top three of the 12-team league. Smith, who is 6-3 and has 13 seasons of WNBA  experience around the basket, should help.

            But with Smith, as well as reliable veterans such as Catchings, Douglas and Sutton-Brown, all over 30 years old, Dunn will take care during training camp to keep her older players fresh.

            “We have to be mindful that they don't recover as fast as they used to, and they also played overseas,” Dunn said. “We'll try to make sure we are sharp but not fatigued going into the season. Again, with the depth of this camp, the focus will be on finding backups. So there will be opportunities for (the veteran players) to step out for a rep or two.”

            The Fever has added one of its former players, Purdue's Stephanie White, as an assistant coach. White has coached at both the collegiate and pro levels, most recently for the Chicago Sky.

            “We kind of  jumped at the chance to bring her back here,” Dunn said. “I think she will bring a dynamic to our staff that we haven't had -- that of a former player. She has a feeling for what it's like to be  a pro. I think she'll be a great resource for some of them.”