The Indiana Fever won six games in all of 2018. They’ve already evened that mark this year and currently rank sixth in the league in overall points per game. How has Indiana reversed course in such a dramatic manner? With an intense, no-quit mentality that ensures teams facing the Fever will emerge wearied after a tough battle. And no one exemplifies that attitude more than 28-year-old Erica Wheeler.
Wheeler is enjoying a career year across the board, averaging 12.1 points and 5.9 assists per game on 44.8% shooting (including 39.3% from behind the arc). She has joined with Kelsey Mitchell and Candice Dupree to form an offense that is dangerous from both inside and outside.
The 5’ 7” guard has a silky-smooth jump shot, releasing the ball quickly with a flick of her wrist. She can easily hit three-pointers off the dribble and loves to pull up from deep. Wheeler utilizes impressive handles to clear space so she can get her shot off. If Wheeler catches fire, she will go to her mid range fadeaway again and again, and defenses must scramble to adjust.
Wheeler’s journey to establish herself as a WNBA force makes for quite a story. She went undrafted in 2013 after four years at Rutgers and soon found herself overseas, playing in Puerto Rico, Turkey and then Brazil. But she received a tryout before the 2015 season with the Atlanta Dream and eventually earned a place on the team.
“Wow. It was just a dream come true,” Wheeler told Fever.WNBA.com in 2016. “I didn’t think about the WNBA. I didn’t think I’d get there. The moment I got into training camp it was like, ‘there’s no way you’re going to take this from me.’”
Though the Dream cut her later that year. After a short stint with the New York Liberty, Wheeler signed with the Fever in 2016 as a training camp free agent. She outperformed all expectations and played her way into the starting lineup. She averaged 8.4 points and 2.8 assists, flashing the agility that makes her so difficult to guard.
She hasn’t looked back, remaining in the starting lineup for the majority of the Fever’s games. And instead of staying content with her position in the league, Wheeler reached for new heights, attaining career-highs in points per game (11.8 in 2017), assists per game (4.1 in 2017 and 2018), and rebounds per game (2.9 in 2018). And this year has been her best yet.
After such an arduous and winding path to the WNBA, Wheeler gives her best effort every contest, and that attitude has infected the rest of the Fever. In an early season win over the Chicago Sky, Wheeler scored 28 points (with six three-pointers) and dished out 8 assists, while Indiana as a team held the Sky to just 37.3% shooting. It was a scrappy, intense effort from the Fever, who won a game in which they were considered heavy underdogs—thanks in large part to Wheeler grinding out buckets.
“We took their punch but we stayed true to our game plan,” said Wheeler to Fever.WNBA.com afterwards. Those words could be the motto of Indiana’s season. Teams will punch at the Fever, but Indiana will bounce right back up.
After all, Wheeler never backs down from a challenge.