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'Z' stands for zeal to improve

By Tom Rietmann | May 22, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS -- For Shavonte Zellous, all the arrows point upward.

Zellous enjoyed a marvelous performance in the Turkish League this past winter, working on her outside shot and averaging 18.7 points and 5.4 rebounds. She reported to Indiana Fever training camp in April and continued to flourish, ranking as the club's most consistent player. And now, with the Fever off to a 1-0 start in the regular season, Zellous has pushed her way into the starting lineup with hopes of doing even better things.

Zellous, in her fourth WNBA season and third with the Fever, is aiming for a breakout year.

“I feel like it's my time,” said the 5-foot-10 guard. “I don't want to be sounding cocky or anything like that. I'm just confident in my game this year. I had a really good season overseas, and I (carried) that into training camp.

“Now games are starting to roll around. When Katie (Douglas) or Tamika (Catchings) is having an off night, I want to be that other person who can help put up points on the scoreboard.”

Zellous did just that in the season opener, sinking a 17-footer for the Fever's first bucket of 2012 and going on to hit her first four shots and total 11 points. The Fever defeated the visiting Atlanta Dream, 92-84.

Zellous, known as “Z” on the Fever squad, wants that to be only the beginning. Last year, as the Fever's first or second player off the bench, she was an igniter who showed a consistent ability to slash to the basket, averaging 5.5 points and 2.4 rebounds. This year, she returned from Turkey with an adroit touch from the perimeter and her same willingness to play with all-out intensity.

Catchings has moved to the starting power forward spot, which means she'll be playing more minutes closer to the basket. Indiana will often use a three-guard lineup, emphasizing mid-range and 3-point shots. In the opener against Atlanta, the Fever set a WNBA record with eight different players hitting a 3-pointer.

“There are different options in our offense and anybody can take a shot, anybody can be the leading scorer on any given night,” Zellous said.

Coach Lin Dunn recognizes the upswing in Zellous' game and envisions good things as the 25-year-old athlete moves into Catchings' former starting position.

“It creates this wonderful opportunity for her,” Dunn said. “With that go high expectations. You are now a key defender for us from the beginning of the game, just like Catch used to be on the perimeter. Many times you are going to be guarding the best perimeter player.

“We're challenging her to step up her game, not just on the offensive end by knocking down 3s and being a scorer, but also being a great defender. In a starting position, she's got this great opportunity to set the tone defensively.”

Challenges are nothing new for Zellous.

As a high school player in Orlando, Fla., she received scant attention from college recruiters before landing at the University of Pittsburgh and making the All-Big East team three times. Coming out of Pitt, she lasted until the 11th pick of the WNBA draft and then surprised observers by averaging 11.9 points for the Detroit Shock and making the All-Rookie First Team. Early in 2010, the Shock, apparently trying to create a new identity after a relocation to Tulsa, stunned many in the league by trading Zellous to Indiana for a second-round draft pick.

“That was a steal,” Dunn said.

And now, Zellous is thankful for the move to Indy. Indeed, she gives thanks for a lot of things in her life. Agnus Berenato, who coached Zellous at Pitt, has noted that one of the young guard's strongest traits is her desire to seize the moment and her gratitude for being afforded that moment.

Berenato once told that, on more than one occasion, Zellous came to her at Pitt and said: “Thanks for having me here.”

“She taught me the little things,” Zellous said, smiling when reminded of her former coach's quote. “She said the little things make the big things better. I was just thankful. I'm thankful for every opportunity.”

The Fever has an opportunity this season to reach the playoffs for an eighth consecutive year and advance to the WNBA Finals like the team did in 2009. Indiana will need improved rebounding, starting with this weekend's road games at Chicago (Friday) and Atlanta (Sunday). The Fever also will need more 3-point shooting like its 12-of-21 mark in the season-opening win.

And Indiana will need those arrows to continue pointing skyward for Zellous.

So far, so good.

“I think she's becoming more polished,” Dunn said. “She's becoming more disciplined both offensively and defensively, doing the little things right.”