Doubts gone, Zellous thrives

By Tom Rietmann | June 9, 2010
Confidence is usually plentiful for Shavonte Zellous, but the second-year WNBA guard found herself wrestling with insecurity earlier this season when she missed her first 15 shots for the Tulsa Shock.

“I was struggling,” Zellous recalled Wednesday. “Tulsa is a great organization, but I don't think it was my style of play there. I started to doubt myself: Am I really the player that I was last year?”

A phone call on Thursday, May 28, erased Zellous' doubts and led to a significant acquisition for the Indiana Fever. It was on that day that Kelly Krauskopf, the Fever's Chief Operating Officer and General Manager, called Tulsa coach Nolan Richardson and consummated a trade for Zellous in return for a 2011 second-round draft pick. The move almost immediately elevated Indiana's bench from solid to extraordinary.

Zellous, who averaged 11.9 points for the Shock when the team played in Detroit in 2009, is an active, slashing type who feels most comfortable in a half-court game. She has come off the Indiana bench for three straight double-digit scoring outputs, including a 23-point performance against New York last weekend. The Fever reserves totaled 30 or more points in all three of those games, a streak which had happened only twice before in franchise history and not since 2001.

Indiana has won five of its last six games for a 5-3 record.

“I'm starting to really like our rotation,” said coach Lin Dunn, whose team plays at Connecticut on Friday before meeting the Sun in Conseco Fieldhouse on Sunday. “These last three games we've kind of gotten into a rhythm with who goes in when and where.”

Zellous' importance in that trend can't be overstated.

“She just seems to fit right in with our players,” Dunn said.

The 5-10 Zellous is a native of Orlando, Fla., who played collegiately at Pittsburgh. She wasn't heavily recruited out of high school, but through hard work and perseverance became Pitt's first three-time All-Big East selection while earning a degree even before finishing her playing career. Her college coach, Agnus Berenato, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that she considered Zellous “the No. 1 success story in all my years of coaching.”

When Krauskopf heard Zellous might be available from the Shock, the Fever GM did the appropriate homework on the player's background. All the reports came back positive. “Very coachable” was a term used often to describe Zellous.

Krauskopf knew, however, that other teams were interested in Zellous. She didn't waste time.

“I've been around long enough to know that these things can disappear in a few hours,” Krauskopf said. “You have to seize the moment.”

Krauskopf had watched Zellous turn in a standout performance against the Fever in last year's Eastern Conference finals.

“So we knew first-hand what she could do on the big stage,” said the GM.

“I just know she was too good for us to pass up. Sometimes players work for certain teams and sometimes they don't. Everybody is just trying to find the right pieces for their system. For us, we'll see how it all plays out next year and the year after that. But for the short term, I think (the acquisition) really helps us.”

Zellous is adapting quickly to her new zip code. For guidance, she talks often to her mother, Tangella Allen, who now resides in Atlanta. She also remains close with Deanna Nolan, her former Shock teammate. And when the trade to Indiana was completed, one of the first Fever players to email and call Zellous was Tamika Catchings.

“She reached out to me and said whatever I needed, I could lean on her,” Zellous said.

Coming off the bench has been a change for Zellous, but she said it gives her time to gauge the flow of the game. She's a blur of energy once she goes in. She scored her 23 points against New York in less than 29 minutes and collected 10 points at Minnesota in 19 ½ minutes. She has gone to the free throw line 21 times, hitting 18, in the past three games.

“I just really like her basketball IQ,” Dunn said. “She has picked up our offensive system very quickly.”

Clearly, Zellous' confidence is back.

-- Fever standout Tamika Catchings is shooting 50 percent from the field, 36.8 percent from 3-point range and 81.6 percent from the foul line after eight games. She was a 40.3 percent shooter from the field in her first nine Indiana seasons.

“I like her pace with her shot this year,” Dunn said. “She's under control. And I think she doesn't feel the pressure that she has to score 25 points or we can't win. I think she feels like she has help.”

Catchings echoed Dunn's words about playing more under control.

“One of the things I just really tried to focus on in the offseason was slowing down,” Catchings said. “Offensively, it has allowed me to get my feet under me and go straight up instead of floating and possibly getting bumped.”

-- Point guard Briann January, who has missed four games with a sprained knee, has been cleared for non-contact work at Fever practices. Dunn said January might play at Connecticut on Friday if she gets full clearance for a practice session before then.

-- Dunn pointed to the team's consistent defense as a main reason for its recent three victories in a four-night period. “The players were really intense on the defensive end,” the coach said. “That sets the tone for how we want to play.” Indiana's opponents hit just 62-of-182 shots over that stretch.