Zellous finds new home

By Tom Rietmann | June 1, 2010

When Shavonte Zellous first heard she might be traded from the Tulsa Shock, unease and uncertainty swept over her. Where would she land? Would she mesh with her new teammates? How would her role change?

But the anxiety quickly dissipated when the official phone call came. On the line was Kelly Krauskopf, Chief Operating Officer and General Manager of the Indiana Fever. Zellous realized immediately that Indiana, with its veteran cast and 2009 Eastern Conference championship, would be a pleasant change of scenery.

“It all worked out perfectly,” Zellous, a 5-10 guard, said after Indiana's practice Tuesday at Conseco Fieldhouse. “I was blessed to get this opportunity.”

The Fever feels blessed, too, that Zellous was available for a 2011 second-round draft pick. A year ago, she averaged 11.9 points and made the WNBA All-Rookie team with the Shock in Detroit. She elevated her scoring average to 15.6 points as she helped the Shock to the conference finals against the Fever.

Zellous, only hours after the trade last week, made a 5-minute appearance for Indiana when the Fever lost at Tulsa on Saturday. But she is expected to get more meaningful playing time this week as Indiana (2-3) plays host to San Antonio on Thursday night and New York on Saturday night. Indiana continues to revise its player rotation in the wake of a knee injury to starting point guard Briann January.

For now, Zellous is mainly a shooting guard. But as she gets acclimated to the Fever offensive and defensive systems, Zellous could wind up seeing time at either guard position or small forward, coach Lin Dunn said. Dunn especially likes Zellous' strength, which will enable her to handle defensive chores on the perimeter and the baseline.

If Zellous is nervous, she's concealing it nicely.

“I'm on a team with great veterans,” she said. “I feel relieved and stress-free.”

Indiana's team, however, has adversity to overcome. January's knee injury is likely to keep her out at least through this week's two home games and Sunday night's road game against Minnesota. January's absence leaves Tully Bevilaqua as the team's only true point guard and has forced Katie Douglas to move over from shooting guard and spend time re-acquainting herself at the point.

“It's whatever the team needs,” said Douglas, a nine-year WNBA veteran who played point guard for Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis and during her first two seasons at Purdue. “I'm comfortable with it. I still have the pass-first mentality, even though I'm supposed to have a scorer's mentality at shooting guard.”

Douglas is the team leader with 24 assists, with only 11 turnovers. However, she said her biggest adjustment to point guard could be the energy level required for bringing the ball up the floor and setting the offense. An upside may be that Douglas could find her way to the free throw line more often as a primary ball-handler. She has attempted only three foul shots in five games this year, making all three.

Douglas and Dunn both indicated the team's main concern is improving its defense ahead of this week's games. Indiana's lack of lineup continuity, with January's injury and four veterans returning late from European play, has been a hindrance.

“In many ways,” Dunn said, “our defensive system is more sophisticated and complicated than our offensive system. When we're not in sync defensively, we can't do the things that are kind of our identity. We're not defending as well as we need to defend. When we defend at a high level, we'll always have a chance to win. But I wasn't pleased with our defense at Tulsa, and that's something we're really focusing on.”

Defensive toughness, Douglas pointed out, has to be part of the Fever's DNA.

“And when we needed to get a stop the other night in Tulsa, we weren't able to come through with it,” Douglas said. “That's our concern and focus this week – just getting back to Fever basketball defense.”

FEVER TIDBITS

-- Dunn said she is “puzzled” by the Fever's 2010 free throw mark. Indiana, one of the top foul-shooting teams in the WNBA last season, is only a .677 club this year (63-of-93). The addition of Zellous could help. She hit 155-of-181 last season (.856), ranking second in the league to Indiana's Tamika Catchings for most free throws made.

-- Shay Murphy got her first start for the Fever at Tulsa and contributed 12 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Murphy is Indiana's second-leading scorer at 11.4 per game and top rebounder at 7 per game. But Dunn faces a dilemma. “We missed (Murphy's) energy coming off the bench,” the coach said. “I'll probably go back to our regular lineup and let Shay come in [off the bench]. She can come in as the 2 (shooting guard) or the 3 (small forward).”