Seven new players will be among the 15 who report Sunday for the start of the Fever's 2014 training camp at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Feverbasketball.com examines some issues facing the Indiana team as it attempts to make its 10th consecutive WNBA playoff appearance.
By Tom Rietmann | April 23, 2014
INDIANAPOLIS -- Coach Lin Dunn and the Indiana Fever will raise the curtain Sunday on the franchise's 15th training camp.
Of the 15 players expected at Fever camp, seven will be new to the team. Name tags may be required for a day or two. Dunn, who's been with the Indiana club since 2003 as a scout, an assistant or the head coach, has never had to introduce herself to so many unfamiliar squad members.
Indiana also has a new assistant on the coaching staff: Sylvia Crawley. She arrives with plenty of credentials as a former WNBA player and collegiate assistant and head coach.
Dunn, whose team went 16-18 during an injury-riddled 2013 season but persevered to reach the Eastern Conference Finals, is itching to get started.
"There comes that time, about every February or March, when you start getting excited again about a new team, a new season," said Dunn, a 43-year coaching veteran.
"If it comes to the point where you don't feel that excitement, then you know it's time to do something different. Right now, I have that excitement going on."
But training camp will open, too, with the team facing a number of thorny issues ahead of the 2014 season. Here are some of the most important:
-- How quickly can new players learn the Fever's offensive and defensive systems? Dunn hopes to impart a large percentage of this knowledge in the first week. It's a top priority. She expects veterans such as Tamika Catchings, Shavonte Zellous, Briann January and Karima Christmas to help groom the newcomers. "Plus," Dunn added, "we'll have some sessions specifically for the new players." Time is short; the Fever opens its preseason with a home game on May 5 against Washington.
-- Who will produce scoring at the guard position? Gone are veteran guards Katie Douglas (free agency) and Erin Phillips (trade). Both struggled with injuries in 2013, but they were huge scoring contributors during the team's push to the 2012 WNBA championship. Shavonte Zellous, who won the league's Most Improved Player award last year, averaged 14.7 points playing mostly at the shooting guard spot. The Fever will need more of that from Zellous but also will require substantial -- perhaps double-digit -- scoring from the "three" spot, which is mostly a perimeter position in the Indiana attack. Returnees Christmas and Jeanette Pohlen, or newcomer Marissa Coleman, could provide the solution. "Whoever starts at the three," Dunn said, "I expect them to score."
-- Is the Fever's starting lineup set? January, Zellous, Christmas, Catchings and Erlana Larkins comprised the starting group at the end of last season. "If you said let's play a game today, I'd probably pencil them in again," Dunn said. But there is mixing and matching that could happen. For example, January could slide to shooting guard, with second-year guard Layshia Clarendon playing the point. Indiana, too, is excited about the versatility that first-round draft pick Natasha Howard possesses to play both post positions. "We're going to be real open-minded about how we're going to play," Dunn said.
-- Speaking of Howard, can she contribute heavily as a rookie? Dunn and her staff love the potential of the 6-4 Howard, who has a 7-foot wingspan. First priority for Howard will likely be backing up Catchings. At times, fans may see Howard and Catchings playing together. Lynetta Kizer, another 6-4 forward, should also provide depth in the post. "We have never, as long as I've been here with the Fever, had this much depth (in the front line) at the beginning of the season," Dunn said. "It's kind of an exciting experience. These post players are not only versatile, but we have some size, some experience. We have players who can play more than one position. Of all the things as we look at our team, I'm most excited about the potential of our post game."
-- Will that depth in the post enable the Fever to manage Catchings' playing minutes? Catchings will be 35 years old in July. Her arrival at training camp will come after a rare winter of rest since she chose not to play overseas. The Indiana team expects more great things from the former league and Finals MVP, but Dunn also wants to stay mindful of Catchings' playing time each game. "The number I have in mind is under 30 (minutes)," Dunn said. "How far under 30 we can go depends again on Kizer and Howard. How many quality minutes can we get out of them? We want Catch to play at a very high level at both ends of the floor and not hit the wall at mid-season and not be exhausted by the playoffs."
-- Who will be this season's breakout player for Indiana? Last year, Zellous made her mark in the league as an All-Star and Most Improved winner. This year, Dunn views Coleman as having the same kind of possibilities. Coleman is a fifth-year guard and forward who was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2009 draft. The free agent acquisition, whose best season was 2011 when she averaged 8.6 points and 4.8 rebounds for Washington, has the ability to spread the floor as a shooter and also post up. "I think Coleman could be (a breakout player)," Dunn said. "I think she has that potential. I think she's hungry. She was looking for a fresh start. I like the mentality she is coming in here with."
-- What will be Crawley's role on the coaching staff? Crawley, who replaces Mickie DeMoss on the Fever staff, played for North Carolina's NCAA championship team in 1994. She played professionally in the American Basketball League and the WNBA. She was an assistant at UNC and served as head coach at Ohio University and Boston College. Crawley will work with the Fever's inside players while Associate Head Coach Stephanie White continues to work with perimeter players. "(Crawley) understands what it's like to be a pro," Dunn said. "She also was a true center. She played her whole career in the post position. I think she's going to really benefit our players in teaching the post game both offensively and defensively."
Roster Note: Due to her injury during the NCAA Tournament, first-round draft pick Natalie Achonwa will not be on the Fever"s official roster in 2014. Her rehabilitation will be managed between doctors and trainers in South Bend and Indianapolis. Achonwa is expected to be in training camp and ready to play in 2015.