SEEKING A POST PLAYER
By Tom Rietmann
INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana Fever team officials are approaching the 2012 WNBA Draft with undeniable clarity and openness.
“We'll take the best post player we can get,” Kelly Krauskopf, the Fever's chief operating officer and general manager, stated this week.
So who is that center the Indiana team is likely to select in Monday's draft? That's where it gets a little hazy.
Krauskopf and Coach Lin Dunn have pinpointed a handful of big, strong players they'd like to pick with their No. 11 overall selection. But drafting that far down in the first round, it becomes “a crapshoot,” as Dunn puts it, as to who will still be available.
“At the end of the day,” Dunn said, “we know the No. 1 priority is to rebound. We have to improve our rebounding. And they've got to be able to play a physical style of basketball.”
The Fever's veteran center, Tammy Sutton-Brown, has long been a reliable producer, but she is 34 and nearing the end of her career. Jessica Davenport, who will be 27 in June, has shared time with Sutton-Brown and is the heir apparent for the No. 1 center position. Indiana wants to find a player to groom for a future role at center.
“I want a kid that's going to come in here and be thrilled to be here,” Dunn said. “We want somebody who's going to say, 'Today (at practice), I'm going to make everybody out there better. I'm going to make Tammy Sutton-Brown better. I'm going to make Jessica Davenport better. I'm going relish the idea that that's my contribution to the team.' ”
Fever officials are confident they can find what they need. Some names to remember: Sasha Goodlett, 6-foot-5, Georgia Tech; Vicki Baugh, 6-4, Tennessee; Chay Shegog, 6-5, North Carolina; Lynetta Kizer, 6-4, Maryland. Also, Notre Dame's Devereaux Peters is an interesting prospect, but at 6-2 she fits the bill more at power forward than center.
“We need to add size and length and interior play to our team, not only this year but next year,” Krauskopf said.
The Fever club, which was 21-13 and went to the Eastern Conference finals last year, opens the 2012 regular season on May 19 against visiting Atlanta. What Fever fans will see in that game -- as well as in the team's lone home preseason game on May 9 against San Antonio -- will be a slightly altered lineup. Tamika Catchings, last year's league MVP, is expected to play extensively this season at power forward after operating most of her career at small forward.
Catchings' move should make her an even more dangerous rebounder and scorer. The change was made possible because Fever coaches view the team as stocked with quality perimeter players who can handle the two guard positions and small forward. Briann January, Erin Phillips, Jeanette Pohlen, the recently acquired Roneeka Hodges, Katie Douglas and Shavonte Zellous provide the Fever with six options for those three spots.
In Monday's draft, Krauskopf said, the Fever figures to garner “probably somebody who's going to be developed, probably not to be initially counted on for a lot of minutes.” Besides the No. 11 pick in the first round, the Indiana team has a third-rounder (No. 34 overall). The Fever traded its second-rounder last year in a deal for Phillips.
The draft begins at 2 p.m. Monday, and the first round will be televised by ESPN2. Also, ESPN3 will simulcast the entire draft. ESPNU and NBA TV will show the second and third rounds.
The Los Angeles Sparks won the WNBA Draft Lottery and will pick No. 1. Seattle, Minnesota and Tulsa will follow. Tulsa is led by a new head coach, Gary Kloppenburg, who was Dunn's assistant with the Fever for the past four seasons.
The draft's top selection is expected to be Nnemkadi Ogwumike, a strong forward from Stanford. Then the player order becomes speculative. Rebecca Lobo, an ESPN analyst, opined during a WNBA teleconference this week that forward Shenise Johnson of Miami and guard Shekinna Stricklen and forward Glory Johnson, both of Tennessee, will make up the next three picks but that the exact order is uncertain.
Barring a trade, San Antonio (at No. 5), Phoenix (six), New York (seven), Washington (eight), Connecticut (nine) and Washington again (10) all will choose players before Indiana gets its opportunity.
“We were very fortunate last year to get Jeanette Pohlen with the ninth pick,” Dunn said about the Stanford standout who became the WNBA's top 3-point shooter as a rookie. “Will we get that lucky this year that somebody of that caliber will drop to 11? You never know. You have to be prepared for that.”
Krauskopf said that Briann January, the team's starting point guard who missed much of last season with a knee injury, is completely healthy and working out regularly in Indianapolis. … Erin Phillips, who took over at point guard when January was hurt, is expected to play for the Australian team in the Olympics. Fever officials remain hopeful that Phillips won't miss any WNBA play while she's with the Australian club. The WNBA will break off its season for a month from mid-July to mid-August during the Olympics. … In light of the Olympic schedule, Dunn noted that coaching her WNBA team this summer will be like dealing with “two different seasons.”