A New Backcourt Takes Shape
Tamika Catchings and Kelly Schumacher, both in their fifth seasons with the WNBA and the Indiana Fever, have encountered a number of coaching and player changes within the Fever organization – the sheer nature of those changes has often led to inconsistency on the court.
Never, though, have those changes been so dramatic involving the point guard. Now, following its 2005 WNBA Draft and the arrival of free agent veteran Tully Bevilaqua, the Fever hopes the off-season additions of veteran and rookie guards will finally complete the championship team it has sought.
“Overall, what we’ve lacked in the past is consistency,” Schumacher said. “Since I’ve been here we’ve had a lot of transactions – I don’t think it was lack of talent, but the team has changed drastically. Now we’re finally getting a base. Hopefully our young draft picks can add to that.”
That base – which includes veterans Catchings, Schumacher, Kelly Miller and Natalie Williams – added Bevilaqua from the WNBA champion Seattle Storm in February, and drafted guards Tan White and Yolanda Paige in the April draft. White, the second player drafted overall, led the country in scoring (23.5 ppg) last season while playing at Mississippi State. Paige, Indiana’s second-round pick and 16th overall, led the nation in assists (9.0) while at West Virginia.
“I think our team has improved athletically,” Head Coach Brian Winters said of this year’s team. “We’re a little quicker. I have gotten to know the players better and they know me better. We can now develop a style of play that will fit our players.”
With consistent scoring from Catchings and a frontcourt with Schumacher, Williams and Ebony Hoffman, the Fever had been searching for a point guard to complete the backcourt – and allow true shooting guards like Miller and Coretta Brown, to fill their original roles.
“Tully is a true point guard. She is a veteran and has great leadership qualities. She is very solid, knows how to play the position and will be a great leader for us,” Winters said.
“Yolanda is a young rookie, has the ability to get off the dribble, penetrate and break defenses down. She has a lot to learn about the WNBA, but I like her quickness and her vision of the court.”
With training camp barely underway, Winters doesn’t want to rush to any conclusions yet.
“I think we have five good guards and some other ladies trying out. We’ll judge it from there. I don’t like to make judgments after one or two practices,” he said.
“Tan is a highly talented scoring player – a slasher and scorer,” Winters said. “She’s very clever around the basket, uses both hands, and has better passing than you think.”
Along with White and Paige, Catchings believes that Ashley Earley, the Fever’s third-round pick out of Vanderbilt, can also make a great addition to the Fever.
“One of the great things about Ashley is that she knows how to get the ball to the hoop,” she said. “It’s all about heart. You play basketball because you have the passion to play, and watching her [in our opening practice Sunday], she finds a way to get to the hoop. She’s not the biggest player, and not the quickest one, but she finds a way.”
Anyone can have talent, Schumacher said, but it is qualities like heart and attitude that determine champions. And she’s believes those qualities are present in the Fever’s training camp.
From the rookie White, who wants to bring “explosion and excitement” to the veteran Bevilaqua, who acknowledges that she “isn’t the flashiest player in the world” – this team also seems to exhibit the variety that Schumacher seeks.
“I think this is finally a year where we have a good mix. Everything is organized, we all know what to expect, we have filled some needs and we have it all together,” she said.
The challenge, now that there is “new blood and old blood,” Catchings said, is to combine the two and become tougher. “Day in and day out we need to get tougher. Mentally and physically, we need to push each other and stand up for ourselves and our team.”
“The backcourt and the frontcourt, the starters and the bench – we all need to feed off each other to make this Indiana Fever team successful,” Catchings said. “And success lies at the WNBA Finals.”
“I expect to make it to the playoffs,” she said. “No ifs, ands, buts or doubts about it. I think we’re good enough and I think that when we open on May 22 we will have put together one of the best teams in the league.”