Rookie Grabs Attention In Preseason Win
By Tom Rietmann
Joy Cheek was the Indiana Fever's third-round pick in the recent WNBA draft. She went 35th overall, one position before league officials closed their briefcases and headed home. Cheek arrived in training camp as a longshot to make the final roster.
“I wasn't about to pout,” said the rookie from Duke. “I just took it as my opportunity. It was my chance to get my foot in the door.”
Friday, that door opened a little wider for Cheek in the Fever's 69-63 victory over Chicago in the preseason opener at Conseco Fieldhouse. The Fever bench played a major role, outscoring the Sky 34-19, with Cheek's 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting leading the way. She also had four rebounds in 22 minutes of action.
“I thought what you saw from Joy Cheek sends a message she may be the steal of the third round,” Fever coach Lin Dunn said.
Cheek, a 6-1 forward, averaged 9.9 points and 5.9 rebounds as a senior at Duke, which went 30-6 and reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament.
Cheek's accomplishments off the floor were impressive, too. She worked as an intern in the White House during the summer of 2009. This past April, she was selected to introduce Vice President Joe Biden at an event connected to Title IX.
Dunn and Kelly Krauskopf, the Fever's chief operating officer and general manager, watched Cheek fall in the draft and decided to take a chance despite her smallish size for a post player.
“I've known her through her whole career at Duke,” Dunn said. “I knew she could play. I love the fact she has an outside shot and is very physical. She has a legitimate chance, no doubt. She certainly helped her stock (against Chicago).”
Amid the uncertainty created by the absence of four projected Indiana starters, who are still competing in the Turkish League playoffs, Dunn was happy to see her shorthanded team overcome 24 turnovers with some fierce defense. The Sky committed 20 turnovers and shot just 34.4 percent from the floor.
Shay Murphy led the Fever with 20 points, hitting 6-of-10 from the field. In a game marked by 22 lead changes and 13 ties, Murphy provided the final five points of a 12-5 run that ended the fourth quarter for Indiana. It made for nice bookends for Murphy, whose opening included welcoming a crowd of 7,291 to the fieldhouse with a few statements over the public-address system just before tipoff.
Dunn views the development of Murphy, who signed with the Fever three games into last season, as an important factor in 2010. With the retirement of Tamecka Dixon, Indiana needs a backup for Katie Douglas and Tamika Catchings. Murphy is coming off a solid season in Spain and wants to capitalize on the opportunity to show her abilities while Douglas and Catchings finish their seasons overseas.
“That's a real important spot for us,” Dunn said. “I thought Shay Murphy really stepped up (against Chicago) and said, 'Let it be me, Coach.' “
Murphy, a three-year WNBA veteran, arrived in Indianapolis last year after being waived by Washington. Without the benefit of an Indiana training camp, she learned the playbook as the regular season progressed. The 5-11 guard from USC says she has a firm grasp on the schemes now but is taking nothing for granted.
“It's a competitive league, and each year it gets harder and harder to make a team,” she said. “There are roster cuts, salary cuts, the crisis economically. You have pressure, but you have to put in the work.”
Josephine Owino totaled 11 rebounds in just 18 ˝ minutes, which caught Dunn's attention. The 6-3 Owino, waived last season by the Mystics, has enjoyed a strong training camp and is battling veterans Jessica Davenport and Jessica Moore for playing time. The cast of strong inside players will grow even more when projected starters Tammy Sutton-Brown and Ebony Hoffman return from overseas.
Perhaps the biggest concern following the win over Chicago was the flurry of turnovers. Indiana's 24 led to 26 points for the Sky. The Fever committed six in the first 5:05 of the game.
The Fever travel to Chicago to meet the Sky in another preseason game on Monday.
“I think going into the second game, some of our new players will be a little more relaxed,” said Fever point guard Tully Bevilaqua, who committed just one turnover in 17 minutes off the bench. “They'll have a better feel for the tempo and be a lot more at ease.”