Zellous Keeps On Scoring

By Tom Rietmann | June 19, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS -- Shavonte Zellous leads the Indiana Fever in scoring after the first six games of 2013. Mention that fact to Zellous and she smiles modestly, insisting she never would have expected it.

“At the end of the day, this is still Katie's and Catch's team,” Zellous said, referring to Fever standouts Katie Douglas and Tamika Catchings. “But right now, we're down a few of our star players. I just give credit to my teammates for finding me and giving me the ball.”

Indiana has played all but two games this year without Douglas, who is dealing with a back injury. The Fever team also is missing three other injured players from last season's run to the WNBA championship -- guard Erin Phillips (knee), guard Jeanette Pohlen (knee) and center Jessica Davenport (stress fracture).

“Adversity has hit us pretty hard at the start of this season,” Zellous said about Fever, which is 1-5 ahead of Saturday night's home game against Chicago.

Zellous is doing everything she can to lift her team above the mounting misfortune.

The fifth-year WNBA veteran, in her fourth season with the Fever, is producing career-high numbers. She is averaging 18.2 points, which is ninth in the league, while also hitting 3-pointers at a 50 percent clip (14-of-28). Indiana needs the point production as it pushes to boost its 68.7 scoring average, which is second-to-last in the WNBA.

“Right now,” Fever Coach Lin Dunn said recently, “(Zellous) is probably our best perimeter player as far as just looking for her shot and being ready to take it. She's not getting out of whack. She's not going too fast. She's not forcing the situation. She kind of has a calmness about her that just comes from experience.”

A two-pronged breakthrough for Zellous surfaced late last season. First, she hit a game-winning jumper with a half-second left as Indiana topped Connecticut to force a final game in the Eastern Conference finals. Then, after the Fever won that series to advance, Zellous erupted for a career-high 30 points that overwhelmed Minnesota in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals.

The Fever needed extra scoring from Zellous in the 2012 Finals because of an ankle injury that sidelined Douglas. Zellous responded then, just like she's responding now.

“I needed to step up,” Zellous said, recalling the moment. “Tamika told me, 'We need your help. We need you to be aggressive.' I took that and ran with it. Luckily, I had a good Finals.”

It was just the beginning. After the Finals, Zellous departed to play for her overseas team in Turkey. She went with a plan and a goal.

“I was always a player who loves the contact, attacking the basket, and had a nice mid-range game,” said the 5-10 guard-forward. “But I think my outside shot, as far as 3-point range, it needed to improve. When I went over there this season, I worked on the things I needed to do in order to come back and help Katie and Catch and be another scorer.”

Zellous led the Turkish league in scoring with a 22.4 mark.

“It gives you a little more respect on the court,” she said about her added ability to connect from distance. “People can't play you like you're one-dimensional. Now they have to play you for the drive and the shot. It gives you a little more balance.”

Zellous came to the Fever in 2010 in a trade with Tulsa. “A dream come true” is how she describes her relocation. She went right to work, pushing to improve each day while accepting the guidance of Catchings on and off the court.

“I knew Tamika was always a great player and you always heard about her leadership,” Zellous said about Catchings, who was the league MVP in 2011 and the Finals MVP last year. “But to actually be on the same team and witness what people are saying, it's unbelievable. She's one in a million, an unbelievable person as a leader, a motivator, somebody to help you when you are struggling.”

There has been a nice progression to Zellous' pro game since she came out of the University of Pittsburgh in 2009. Mostly, that's a byproduct of the aforementioned hard work.

Zellous, 26, said she wants to play basketball “until the wheels come off” and wants to avert anybody who might arrive and try to supplant her.

“If you don't improve your game, somebody is coming to snatch your job,” Zellous said. “Each year, I want to get better and help my team any way that I can.”

And whenever the career does end, Zellous knows how she hopes to be remembered in the WNBA.

“As that player who always smiled, who loved having fun, but also as a player who took care of business on the court,” she said. “I want to be a person who others want to be around. I want to be a great leader like Tamika.”