New diet, New momentum
Ebony Hoffman has made some changes over the past month or so, starting with her diet. She no longer eats red meat. Her food of choice is vegetables, with an occasional meal including fish.
“It's a challenge,” the Indiana Fever forward said, divulging that she also is working on some plans to open a restaurant in Indianapolis. “I thrive on any challenge.”
Things are changing for Hoffman on the basketball floor, too. After an uneven start this season, she has elevated her performances. She has averaged 14.3 points and 5.3 rebounds over the past three games after reaching double-digit scoring only five times in the Fever's first 17 games.
Hoffman's recent play has provided a big boost for the Fever (13-7), whose victory at New York on Sunday night pushed the team into first place in the tightly contested WNBA Eastern Conference. Hoffman collected 15 points and eight rebounds in the overtime win at New York.
“Her fitness level has improved,” said coach Lin Dunn, whose Fever team hosts Los Angeles on Thursday night. “I think she has recovered from some of her fatigue from overseas. More than anything, she's moving better.”
Maybe it's the dietary changes and the support she gets from her husband, Ron Cass, who made similar alterations in his eating habits. Or maybe, Hoffman said, it's simply a matter of getting over some nagging leg injuries left from her winter play in Turkey.
Whatever the case, the 6-2, 215-pound athlete from Los Angeles is happy with the differences and wants them to continue.
“The problem,” Hoffman said about the first half of the season, “was making the right decisions at the right time. My decision-making was off. I was either passing up shots or taking a bad shot. Right now I feel like my decision-making is where it needs to be. It was challenging myself more than anything.”
Hoffman received a challenge from another source, too. She is one of 20 players competing for a spot on the USA Basketball team that will play in the World Championships this fall. During the WNBA All-Star weekend earlier this month, Hoffman performed well in workouts with the squad in Connecticut, and U.S. coach Gino Auriemma left her with some motivational words.
“Gino told me I need to keep playing well; they're going to be watching,” Hoffman said. “He told me he liked what he saw, he was pleasantly surprised and that I had a really good chance of making the team. Now, how everybody else falls into that, we'll see. But he said I had a really good chance.”
Hoffman termed her workouts with the U.S. team “a turning point.” And as Indiana continues its push to win the Eastern Conference again and return to the WNBA Finals, she is looking for numbers in the range of 15 points and eight rebounds a game.
“That's something I know I can do and the team knows I can do,” said Hoffman, who was the Fever's leading scorer with a 16.4 mark in the Finals loss to Phoenix last season.
• Dunn gave the Fever an extra day off from practice on Tuesday, although some of the younger players and reserves reported to Conseco Fieldhouse for shooting work. With starters Tamika Catchings, Katie Douglas, Tammy Sutton-Brown and Tully Bevilaqua all over 30 years old, Dunn remains vigilant about preserving the players' energy for the stretch run. “I think time management may be the key to who's going to win the East,” Dunn said.
• Dunn said the team will continue to focus on getting its bench players prepared for significant minutes. “We know it's going to take a team effort,” she said. “We were able to overcome Atlanta and a huge performance by Angel McCoughtry (27 points). We were able to overcome New York and a HUGE contribution by Cappie Pondexter (40 points). We feel the more balanced we can be, the better chance we have to win.”
• The Fever continues to be happy with the energy that point guard Briann January provides off the bench. January is showing no signs of a knee injury that kept her out of four games earlier this season. “She's defending at a very high level,” Dunn said.