MVP Catchings adjusts to new position

By Tom Rietmann | May 1, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS -- The position will be different, but Tamika Catchings' approach will be the same. The Indiana Fever star plans to operate at power forward with the same vigor and relentlessness that has marked her style for 10 professional seasons.

“Whatever we can do to win,” Catchings said this week as the Indiana team dove into intensive workouts at its 2012 training camp at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “Moving me from the three (small forward) to the four position (power forward), if that's going to be the best situation for the team, then I just have to adjust to it and our team has to adjust to it.

“For me, it's figuring out, 'OK, where do I go, where do I fit in?' It's making sure all of us work well together.”

The switch of positions for Catchings is a main story line for the Fever's 2012 camp. It won't be unusual this season for fans to see the team in a setup with Catchings and either Tammy Sutton-Brown or Jessica Davenport in the low-post positions near the basket. Three guard types will work on the perimeter.

“Catch is one of those players who is so versatile,” said Sutton-Brown. “With her playing the four, she'll create mismatches, which will definitely be a challenge for some of the opposing fours. And she can hit the outside shot, so she will definitely open it up for the five (center) position.”

Catchings, last season's league MVP, moves into the spot where Tangela Smith started in 2011. The Fever coaching staff views the change as putting the 6-foot-1 Catchings, the team's best rebounder with a 7.6 career average, into even better position to clean up the misses. Her speed and scoring ability (a 16.5 career mark) should give her an edge against slower power forwards.

“There's nobody in the league that can guard her at the four position,” said Kelly Krauskopf, the Fever's chief operating officer and general manager. “We think that her strength is her speed, her quickness (and) being able to spread the defense from the four.”

As Coach Lin Dunn pointed out, Catchings occasionally played power forward last year during important late-game situations. The pick-and-roll play is a big part of the Fever playbook, and Catchings will be heavily involved in that, as usual.

“She can pick and pop. She can pick and roll,” Dunn said. “There are just some things we can do with her in the two-man game.

“(It's getting) her closer to the basket, getting her in a position where she's not running the wing down the floor. She's the trailer post. She can come down and catch and shoot, catch and drive, come down and pin away. There are just some things at the four that she can do that will not only benefit our team, but will also benefit her. A lot of coaches consider her maybe the best power forward in our league, so we're going to use her there.”

Catchings, who will be 33 in July, didn't play overseas this past winter. She used the offseason to get rejuvenated and healthy ahead of the 2012 WNBA season and this summer's Olympics.

She worked out five days a week for about four hours each day. She mixed swimming and weight-lifting workouts with a lot of basketball.

“I feel good,” Catchings said. “I wouldn't say I'm 100 percent ready as far as game shape, but that comes from playing games. I feel, hopefully, I'm on an (upswing) and I'll peak at the right moment.”

She will not miss any Fever games as she plays for the U.S. team in the Olympics. The WNBA is taking a month off from competition from mid-July to mid-August to accommodate the Olympic schedule. Catchings' only other time away from the Fever will come later this month -- before Indiana's May 19 regular-season opener -- when she joins the Olympic squad for a three-day mini-camp in Seattle.

The Fever opened training camp on Sunday without Katie Douglas, Erin Phillips and Davenport, all of whom were delayed in their return from overseas play. They'll be on hand within a few days and a full complement of players will start Indiana's push for an eighth consecutive playoff berth.

“The ultimate goal for every single season is to win a (WNBA) championship,” Catchings said. “We have a good chance. We have a lot of great players out here. Training camp has been good thus far. (When Douglas, Phillips and Davenport) get in, we'll get right back rolling into things.

“The transition will be getting everybody gelling. And with me now at the four, it's figuring out, from the wing standpoint, who's playing, how we make everything work and just doing the mix and match.”

WITH COUSIN IN MIND, ELY-GASH TRIMS HER HAIR

Shyra Ely-Gash, who had always worn her hair long as a Fever forward, arrived for the 2012 training camp with a new look: extremely short hair. She made the style change about 1 months ago, doing it for her 31-year-old cousin, Ebony Johnson.

Johnson was diagnosed recently with colon cancer for the third time in three years. Johnson's treatment, Ely-Gash said, has caused her to lose her hair. Johnson and Ely-Gash have been close for many years, and the Fever forward wanted to lend her support and love in any way she could.

So the former Indianapolis Ben Davis High School standout cut her hair.

“It's a promise I made to her just to let her know she's not in it by herself,” said Ely-Gash, who also serves as an ambassador for Pink-4-Ever, Inc., a breast cancer foundation.

Ely-Gash was married during the Fever offseason to Richard Gash, who was a point guard for the Tennessee Volunteers men's team when Ely-Gash starred for the Tennessee women's team.