Christmas Displays Her "Warrior" Mentality

By Tom Rietmann | July 3, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS -- Karima Christmas is defying the WNBA odds. A late second-round draft selection in 2011, she has carved out a firm position with the Indiana Fever. Few second-rounders make WNBA rosters, much less produce at the significant rate that Christmas has.

How does Christmas get it done? A hint surfaces when the Fever guard/forward is asked how she hopes to be remembered as a basketball player.

“As someone who has no fear when they're on the court,” Christmas responded. “I might take a hit here and there, but I'm going to get back up and then dive on the floor and do everything I need to. I'll do the little things, and I'll do the dirty work, and I'll get it done for my team in the end.”

Indeed, Christmas is getting it done for Indiana. With the defending WNBA champions battling a parade of injuries this season, her elevation to the starting lineup and consistent numbers have been a bright spot. It's early in the 2013 season, but many in the Fever camp hope to see Christmas get attention as a candidate for the league's Most Improved Player.

Her teammates and coaches notice it: Christmas puts her fierce competitiveness on display every day.

“The one thing about her is that 'warrior' mentality,” said Fever star Tamika Catchings, who's an expert on such attitude. “Karima is still growing as far as knowing when to go really hard and when to kind of slow up a little bit. But with the energy she comes with, just the aggression offensively and defensively, she brings so much to this team.”

Indiana (3-7), which will play Connecticut on Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, has won two consecutive games after losing seven in a row. Christmas has played no small part in the rally.

She has scored 16, 12 and 12 points in the past three games. She is 7-of-13 from the 3-point line in the last four games, elevating her to ninth in the WNBA with a .421 mark. Her free throw rate is .800 (20-of-25), second on the Indiana team behind the .925 of Catchings, who has hit 24 in a row.

In two different games this season, Christmas has had four steals. In two other games, she produced three steals. She is fourth in the league in steals, averaging 1.9 per game.

Last season, after arriving in Indiana following a trade from Tulsa, Christmas basically was the 11th player on the roster until a couple of strong appearances in the playoffs and WNBA Finals thrust her into the limelight.

This season, her versatility and spirit make her one of the Fever's toughest players. On offense, the 6-footer can play either the shooting guard or small forward position. On defense, she has the skills to match up against both guards and both forwards from the opposition.

”I think Karima has a lot of pluses,” Indiana Coach Lin Dunn said. “She not only plays hard on every possession, but she's big and strong for a perimeter player. We're getting a lot out of Karima.”

Christmas credits her mother, Jennita, as being the biggest influence in her life. Jennita, a former track athlete, instilled the work ethic in her daughter long before the latter chose to attend Duke University, where she totaled 1,052 career points.

After college, Christmas was drafted by the Washington Mystics on the 23rd overall pick. She moved to Tulsa in midseason of 2011 before arriving here in 2012.

Along the way, Christmas gleaned all she could from the WNBA veterans around her, but none provided as much help as Catchings.

“She's more personable,” Christmas said about Catchings. “She takes to each person and tries to build a relationship. That helped me a lot when I was transitioning into this position from Tulsa. Her reaching out and giving me confidence really helped a lot.”

As a young player, Christmas wore the nickname of K Holiday -- for fairly obvious reasons. She smiles when she recalls the various basketball headlines that have been connected to her surname. In fact, she said one of the best lines recently appeared on Twitter after a particular play involved a pass to her from Indiana point guard Briann January.

”It was like, 'That's a pass from January to Christmas. We went the whole calendar year,' ” the Fever player related.

As the summer calendar progresses and Indiana tries to fight its way into a ninth straight playoff appearance, look for Christmas to be a big part of the process. Being in a scoring role again, just like in college, has been a huge boost.

“It really helped me be more confident in myself,” she said. “The level of comfort is just growing.” Indiana’s Injury Update

January, who suffered a mild concussion in Sunday night's victory over Seattle, has yet to practice this week. Dunn said after Wednesday's session at The Fieldhouse that she is “hopeful but not optimistic” about January's availability for Saturday's game against Connecticut.

The possible return of point guard Erin Phillips could help the Fever's continuing injury predicament. Phillips, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery, participated in five-on-five, full-contact drills on Wednesday for the first time in her comeback.

“We're hopeful she'll be able to play Saturday,” Dunn said. “Every day we test her a little further, with a little more intense play. I think, more than anything, she's going to be ready physically, but mentally, as far as sets and schemes and what she's doing, she's going to be slow to react. That's what will take longer, I think.”