Inside the W with Michelle Smith: The Big Change In Indy

Teaira McCowan is the long, tall embodiment of the saying “Be the change you wish to see.”

That change has arrived in Indianapolis, and it is unmistakable.

When McCowan got the ball deep in the paint and scored at the buzzer to lift the Fever to a season-opening win over New York last weekend, it was clear that things are going to be different for the Fever, who needed 11 games last season to notch their first win.

The change that the 6-foot-7 McCowan brings does not yet qualify as seismic. But someday soon, it might.

“That play wasn’t anything magical,” said Indiana Fever coach Pokey Chatman. “She got the pass inside from Candice (Dupree) and the point guard was on her. That’s what is supposed to happen. But she is going to come along just fine.”

Chatman’s downplay is not about ability of the player she chose with the No. 3 pick in a deep draft class, but about expectations.

Chatman knows better than most than having a player of McCowan’s size is a game-changer in the WNBA, that players with similar profiles to McCowan – the likes of Liz Cambage, Brittney Griner and Sylvia Fowles – are among the most dominant players in the league.

They are the players that McCowan has looked up to her entire career. Soon, she wants to be counted among them.

“They are all great players and I’m just starting to work my way up to that point,” McCowan said. “I’m just trying to take in all of the knowledge and all of the things I need to be able to be great.”

The former Mississippi State All-American, who broke the NCAA Final Four rebounding record in 2018, said she has a lot to learn about pace and space and her role in the screen-and-roll. She is still taking in the terminology and adapting to life with a new team and a new coach.

“It takes some time to grow,” Chatman said. “She is going to be huge for us, literally and figuratively, and she’s only going to get better.”

“It will be a new mindset for her and for every player on the floor. When she is in the game, we are going to do certain things with her, because they are effective. But that’s not all she can do.”

McCowan averaged 18.4 points and 13.5 rebounds a game in her senior season at Mississippi State, ranking her second in the NCAA in the latter category. She shot better than 66 percent from the field, proving that she is a finisher around the rim, and collected 87 blocked shots. She was a dominant force inside in a way that likens her to Griner and Fowles before her.

Chatman coached Fowles as a collegian at LSU. She said that while their physical attributes are similar, Fowles – the 2017 WNBA MVP who has won two titles with the Minnesota Lynx – brought power, speed and quickness to the game and McCowan has some work to do in those last two categories.

“But there is no doubt about her size and the ways in which she can impact this team,” Chatman said. “She is going to be thoroughly important to us. There may not be double-doubles early on, but she is going to impact the game in ways that haven’t been prevalent for us.”

Chatman knows that McCowan will not only block shots and protect the rim, but she will give opponents second thoughts about whether they want to drive into the paint at all. Those kinds of impacts won’t show up on the stat sheet.

“Her immediate impact at the defensive end will be more than the offensive end,” Chatman said.

McCowan said she is learning fast in her first three weeks as a professional basketball player. Chatman is trying to keep things simple. Run the floor. Post up. Rebound. McCowan said she thinks that Chatman is letting her get comfortable, but the time is coming soon that she will be asked to “step out of my comfort zone.”

Following her heroics in the opening game, McCowan experienced a dose of reality in the life of a WNBA rookie just three days later in Connecticut when she played just nine minutes and struggled with zero points, three rebounds and a block.

“I don’t have to be a 20-20 player right way, it’s probably not going to happen as a rookie, but I’m going to work toward it every day,” McCowan said.

And her teammates are going to need to adapt as well.

“We will get everybody on the same page,” McCowan said. “My teammates are teaching me lessons, they aren’t sugar coating things. Which is what needs to happen if our team is going to get to its peak.”

Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith writes a weekly column on throughout the season. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.