Larkins uses rebounds to repay Fever

By Tom Rietmann | August 1, 2012
                       
INDIANAPOLIS -- When Erlana Larkins talks about having a position on the Indiana Fever roster,   her voice takes on a tone of deep appreciation. She's truly grateful to be playing for the Fever. In fact, she struggles at times to find words to express her gratitude.

“There isn't a phrase, a paragraph, a book to describe the fulfillment and joy that (Fever General Manager Kelly Krauskopf) gave me when she and the team allowed me just to come to their training camp,” Larkins said this week. “There's nothing I can really say to thank Kelly and (team owner Herb Simon) enough for giving me the opportunity.”

Larkins is currently providing thanks with her play. After failing to make a WNBA roster in each of the past two seasons, the 6-foot-1 power forward has parlayed an invitation to Indiana's camp into a role as a solid backup to Fever star Tamika Catchings. After Catchings, Larkins is possibly the team's most instinctive rebounder.

Larkins, averaging 3.1 rebounds in 10.3 minutes a game at the season's midway point, showed some of her best stuff in the Fever's final two games before the current month-long Olympic break. She grabbed a total of eight rebounds in a victory over New York and a loss to Los Angeles. She also totaled 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting.

The rebounding, in particular, is something the Fever needs as it takes a 10-7 record into the season's second half. Coach Lin Dunn has made improved rebounding a point of emphasis, hoping the Fever can move up at least marginally from its 10th-place ranking in that statistic (out of 12 WNBA teams).

Larkins is physical and energetic and not easily stopped when she attacks the glass. Those traits likely will make her an integral part of any upgrade the Fever can produce.

“She has great effort and will,” said Fever assistant coach Mickie DeMoss, who works with Larkins. “She always gives that second effort. And she has some skills to back the effort up. She has good hops. She's a quick jumper.

“She's always been what we would call a natural rebounder. She just has a nose for the ball.”

Early in her basketball life, Larkins began noticing that rebounding skills were part of her DNA. She attended The Benjamin School in North Palm Beach, Fla., which was kindergarten through 12th grade. When she grew to 6 feet by the seventh grade and displayed uncommon basketball skills for a 12-year-old, she was quickly elevated to the varsity program and more than held her own with top high school players.

“I always just had a feeling for where the ball comes off the rim,” Larkins said after a Fever practice this week. “I just always sort of knew, depending on who shot it and where it came from. I always wanted to be in (the correct) area, and I didn't want anything keeping me from getting there.”

Larkins, recruited by a number of top colleges, signed with North Carolina and averaged 13.7 points and 8.3 rebounds through her collegiate career. She became the seventh player in Atlantic Coast Conference history to garner 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 300 assists, 200 steals and 100 blocks.

The New York Liberty drafted her in 2008's first round (14th overall). She averaged 4.8 points and 2.7 rebounds as a rookie and followed that with marks of 2.4 points and 1.7 rebounds in 2009.

However, she sat out the WNBA season in 2010 after the Liberty released her in camp. And she found herself on the sidelines again in 2011 following her release from the Phoenix Mercury.

“Not playing (in the WNBA), at first it was all kind of shocking,” said Larkins, who continued to play winter basketball in the Turkish League. “It really hit me hard the second summer. I just stayed focused. My mom's my No. 1 fan. She just said, 'In time it will happen. Just keep working hard.' And she just kept praying.”

Then came the call from the Fever.

Larkins reported for Indiana's 2012 camp with an insatiable hunger and a fervent desire to take advantage of her new opportunity. DeMoss noticed it immediately. The Fever coach also noticed how the 26-year-old forward took in knowledge from every available source, but especially from Catchings, last season's league MVP.

“Catch has just kind of taken her under her wing,” DeMoss said. “And the thing about Larkins is that she's so receptive to Catch. She's receptive to the coaches. She appreciates the spot she has on this team and she's excited to be here in Indiana.”

Catchings, seeking her third gold medal as a member of the U.S. team in the Olympics, is the only Fever player not taking part in ongoing workouts at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. In her absence, Larkins is getting extra repetitions and practice time at power forward. Larkins likes the additional work but also misses the helpful tips that Catchings typically provides.

“I think it's just who Catch is as a person. An amazing person,” Larkins said. “She's probably the most amazing athlete I've encountered in my life. She is selfless. It's never about Catch. I'm just glad I can be in such close quarters with her and learning from her.”

It's one more thing of which Larkins is deeply appreciative.