Time to separate and move the needle

by Tom Rietmann | May 5, 2010

As the Indiana Fever winds down training camp and prepares for the start of preseason games, coach Lin Dunn continues to search for performances that move the needle.

“I'm waiting for somebody to separate,” Dunn said Tuesday after the Fever's workout at Conseco Fieldhouse. “You either separate and make me notice you or you cut yourself. That's usually what happens. It hasn't happened yet.”

With four of the team's five projected starters still playing overseas, Indiana's young players are getting ample opportunity to prove their mettle in camp. But only two or three roster positions, according to Dunn, will be filled by new faces. As many as 10 players are competing for those spots.

“Who's going to say, 'OK, I'm too good, you can't cut me'? I'm waiting to see that,” Dunn said.

There is still time to impress the Fever, last season's Eastern Conference champions. Camp continues through this week and the team plays host to Chicago at noon Friday in its first preseason game. The Fever then travel to Chicago on Monday for another preseason game before opening the regular season on Saturday, May 15, against visiting Washington.

Indiana will play the preseason games without Ebony Hoffman, Tammy Sutton-Brown, Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas. Hoffman and Sutton-Brown, playing for Fenerbahce, and Catchings and Douglas, playing for Galatasary, will match up in the Turkish League finals. If the best-of-five series is stretched to its limits, the WNBA regular-season opener will be in jeopardy for the four Fever standouts.

In Friday's preseason game, Dunn said the Fever will count heavily on guards Briann January and Tully Bevilaqua and centers Jessica Davenport and Jessica Moore because of their status as returning veterans. But there will be liberal substituting as the roster continues to take shape.

Fierce defensive play and relentlessness are bedrock principles for the Fever, and that's what Dunn wants to see not only in Friday's game but in remaining practice sessions.
“Those kind of people catch our attention because they fit into what we're trying to do – fit into our identity,” Dunn said.

There's one more thing, Dunn said as she watched the end of a workout in which the Fever competed, as they often do, against male practice players.

“I'm looking for players who can knock down shots, especially at the end of practice. You're tired. You've been beaten up. These guys have knocked you around and you still step up and hit a shot. I'm looking for that toughness.”

The young Fever players currently in camp made a trip to New York on Monday for a controlled scrimmage game against the Liberty. What they lacked in experience, they compensated for with enthusiasm.

“We went up there with basically our second and third group, and I thought they played really, really hard,” Dunn said. “I thought our defense was ahead of our offense. And I thought we were probably playing at a much higher level than I expected.”

Dunn singled out forwards Christina Wirth and Ashley Battle and guards Jennifer Risper and Shay Murphy for solid performances. The coach said rookie center Josephine Owino played nicely, too, going against some veteran Liberty post players.

However, a deepening concern for the Fever has been unavailability of first-round draftee Jené Morris, who has sat out much of camp with a pulled hamstring. Dunn said the hope is that Morris will be able to play in Monday's preseason game.

Bevilaqua, an 11-year WNBA veteran, practiced for the first time on Tuesday. Introductions were in order. She knew only a few of the players on hand but liked their fervor and shooting ability.

For Bevilaqua, the preseason games are a telling measure of development, especially defensively.  The Fever has ranked in the top three in the WNBA in steals and scoring defense in each of the past five seasons.

“There are some personal goals,” she said, “like taking care of the basketball, knocking down open shots. As a team, it's about helping each other on defense and playing the kind of defensive rules that we've instilled in this program over the last few years.”