Fever Gearing Up For Opener

By Tom Rietmann | May 13, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS -- Her plans to begin work as a basketball consultant will wait until September. An agenda that includes her life-long love of travel and new adventures will be put on hold, too.

Indiana's Lin Dunn made it abundantly clear this week that, for the next three-plus months, performing her final season of duties as the Fever's head coach is her only focus.

“I just want to reinforce to everybody that just because I'm retiring AFTER this season, it does not mean that I am not fully engaged in everything I can do to make this team the best possible for us to challenge for a championship,” Dunn said at the Fever's annual media day.

“I'm not half-in, half-out. I'm all in.”

Dunn has been all in for 37 years and 1,100 games as a college and pro coach. She led the Fever to the WNBA championship in 2012. As the franchise gears up for its 15th season, which opens with a Friday night game at Chicago, the team's fans wonder whether another title could be in the offing before Dunn signs those retirement papers at year's end.

Kelly Krauskopf, the team's president and Dunn's boss, likes the Fever's talent and potential to make it happen.

“I think it's as good as what we were looking at in 2012,” Krauskopf said.

“I know one thing: This group of players that we have coming back, they're not afraid of anything. Half the battle is that mental part. Do you see yourself there? There's no question that they do.”

The Fever will begin 2014 with a younger roster, including at least five new players among the active 12. Gone are veteran guards Katie Douglas (free agency) and Erin Phillips (trade) and center Jessica Davenport (retirement).

Standout forward Tamika Catchings, who will be 35 years old this summer, has 13 WNBA seasons on her resume. She is the Fever's unquestioned leader and elder statesman. Point guard Briann January, at 27 with five WNBA seasons, has the second-longest tenure with the club.

Catchings said this week she wants to play on one more Olympic team in 2016 and plans to continue in the WNBA until then. She, like Dunn, would like to embrace one more league championship trophy before moving on.

For the 2014 Fever to win that title, Catchings and Dunn both emphasized the team's defense can suffer no dropoffs. Also, they added, the outside shooting lost with the departure of Douglas and Phillips and a season-ending injury to Jeanette Pohlen must be replaced. That could come, in part, from Marissa Coleman, a free agent acquisition who averaged a team-leading 12.3 points and shot 42.9 percent on 3-pointers during the preseason.

Having the new-look roster band together quickly is also important, according to Catchings.

“We got so comfortable with having our core group (in the past),” Catchings said. “We really didn't have open spots. But now we have open spots and we brought in new players. We have to build that team chemistry.”

Catchings, the league MVP in 2011 and Finals MVP in 2012, remains as the team's most vital piece. She enters the 2014 season feeling robust and healthy after taking the winter off from overseas play. Also, Dunn chose not to play Catchings in any of the team's four preseason games and hopes to limit the standout's playing time in the regular season.

“Going into the season, I'm looking at 26-28 minutes,” Dunn said about Catchings' action in each game. “The days of her playing 35 minutes have to be over.”

In rookie forward Natasha Howard, Indiana's top draft pick from Florida State, the Fever has a player who can either spell Catchings or complement her in the same front line. The slender, 6-foot-3 Howard averaged 11.5 points and five rebounds during the preseason while shooting 50 percent from the field.

“She is long and athletic and can post up, but she also can come outside and shoot the ball,” Dunn said about Howard. “And she can put the ball on the floor and attack the rim. There's a skill set there that you can't teach.”

Said Catchings about her heir apparent: “She's going to be an amazing player in this league.”

Howard adds to the Fever's front-line depth, which Dunn describes as the best in her dozen years with the club. Newcomer Lynetta Kizer is part of that depth as well, along with returnees Erlana Larkins, Karima Christmas and Jasmine Hassell.

Last season, the Fever reached the Eastern Conference Finals with an injury-riddled and short-handed roster. This year, Indiana is looking to go even deeper in the playoffs.

“If we can get to the final four like we did last year with no depth, then why can't we get to the Finals (this year)?” Dunn said. “And once we get to the Finals, anything can happen.”

January was one of those who persevered through an injury (shoulder) last season. This year, she is feeling healthy and prepared to direct traffic for a team that, with its injection of youth, expects to fast-break more often.

“We're looking to push it,” January said. “I think with the team we have now, we have the capability to do that and just play some fun basketball.”

And perhaps championship basketball, too.

“We want to send (Dunn) out with another year like we had in 2012,” said veteran guard Shavonte Zellous. “ … It would be great to get (Catchings) one more, as well.”