— Fueled by postseason brilliance, Erlana Larkins has carved a career as a key player in Indiana Fever history
Entering her sixth season in Indianapolis and a fixture among the club’s career statistical leaders is exactly where Erlana Larkins thought she’d be when she signed with the Fever in 2012, right?
“I didn’t know at all [how long I’d be here],” Larkins said. “I was kind of down on myself, I hadn’t played [in the WNBA] in two years and I just felt like maybe this isn’t for me.”
That doubt of her role in a league, that she thought may have already passed her by, was present when Indiana signed her to a free-agent contract prior to the 2012 season. Larkins had lasted two seasons with the New York Liberty after being selected 14th in the 2008 draft, and hadn’t played in the league since being waived the following season.
“I didn’t know if my time in the league was up, but Indiana was gracious enough to give me an opportunity.”
“You know, some things aren’t for everybody,” Larkins said. “I didn’t know if my time in the league was up, but Indiana was gracious enough to give me an opportunity and I really appreciate that and I haven’t looked back since.”
Larkins’s debut season for the Fever was pretty ho-hum stuff; she appeared in all 34 games, posting averages of 4.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.
“The season was hectic,” Larkins said. “I was new, I was 1,000 miles an hour, all over the place. I think eventually I settled in, but what really got me over the hump was the Olympic break. We had a month to just practice, and Catch (former Fever star Tamika Catchings) was on the Olympic team of course, so therefore I got an opportunity to practice and get a lot of reps with the starting group.”
Tammy Sutton-Brown started 32 games that season at center, leaving Larkins with just two starts at the end of the regular season. However, after the Fever lost a home playoff game to the Atlanta Dream in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, coach Lin Dunn sought a change.
“The one thing that stuck in my mind was, for us to have a chance, ‘we have got to rebound better,'” Dunn said. “When I thought about that, I thought ‘You know, I’m going to put our best rebounder in the starting lineup.'”
Dunn’s insertion of Larkins into the starting lineup was a game-changer. Larkins scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the Fever’s 103-88 win in Game 2, earning another start in the decisive Game Three.
She scored 16 points again, and this time tied a Fever playoff record with 20 rebounds in Indiana’s 75-64 win to close out the series. She had her first career double-double by the second quarter.
“You play with the mindset of win or go home, back’s against the wall, and I played out of my mind that game,” Larkins said. “I don’t know what got into me. I just didn’t want to go home.”
From that point forward, Larkins has been in the starting lineup. She posted a double-digit rebound total in five of the remaining seven games of the 2012 playoffs, including three times against the Minnesota Lynx in the Fever’s WNBA Finals triumph.
“I think that was one of the key turning points in our ability to win a championship,” Dunn said. “There were some other decisions we had to make as far as getting another shooter on the floor, and overcoming some injuries, but I believe the turning point was when we put Larkins into the lineup.”
She set Fever records for most rebounds in a playoff season with 109, and in a series with 48 against the Lynx. She owns the top three spots in the Fever record book for offensive rebounds in a playoff game and three of the top four marks in a playoff season, all coming in the 2012 playoffs.
“It was like her redemption tour,” Briann January said. “She knew that she was better than what she was in New York and she wanted to come out and show everybody that. She came in here and gave us life.”
Since that magical postseason run, Larkins has been a fixture in the Indiana lineup. She’s started 106 of a possible 108 games since then, outside of an injury-plagued 2015 season in which she played in only 21 games and made just three starts.
“The people that have been here a couple of years just continued to encourage me and wanted me to get better,” Larkins said. “Everybody knows that I’m a rebounder and a good screen-setter, so each year I just try to focus on trying to better myself in every category that I could.”
“She has the best feel for the ball off the rim of any post I’ve ever played with or played against.”
According to January, who has been Larkins’ teammate her entire Fever career, she isn’t just a “good” screen-setter.
“As a point guard watching the WNBA and playing in the WNBA, she’s the best post in the screen and roll, and she has the best feel for the ball off the rim of any post I’ve ever played with or played against,” January said. “I love her to death and she’s honestly meant everything to my career here.”
She said people know her for her hustle plays, but what they may not know is that Larkins is also fifth in WNBA history in shooting percentage, sporting an efficient 55 percent mark.
“Because I’m shorter, I like to use my strength and try to get people as far under the basket as I can and then turn around and shoot,” Larkins said. “Then of course, [I’m] just trying to get points off of offensive rebounds.”
Larkins described her style of play as “bully ball”, and plays a tough game on the court. Off the court, January described her as “the biggest teddy bear you will ever find.”
“She plays this big, tough enforcer role, and she kind of is off the court, too. She has everybody’s back,” January said. “If you ever needed anything, she’d have your back 100 percent, no questions asked. She’s just that type of person with the biggest heart. That’s E.”
With 1,112 points scored during her six-year tenure in Indiana, Larkins will pass Tully Bevilaqua for eighth place in Fever scoring history, with her next bucket. And with only 29 more rebounds, she’ll pass Ebony Hoffman in second place in Fever rebounding history. The Fever’s upcoming three-game homestand will give Larkins a good shot at reaching both milestones and cementing her legacy as one of the Fever’s most impactful players.
“I take pride in being a great teammate. I’m always rebounding in games and in practice, so for people to remember that I was a great player and a hard worker, that’s really great. But most important to me is that I be a great teammate.”
When told of her upcoming achievements, Larkins was thrilled to hear she’s made such an impact. But she’s far more concerned with leaving a legacy based around her demeanor and what she brought to the Fever than any statistical accomplishments.
“I take pride in being a great teammate. I’m always rebounding in games and in practice, so for people to remember that I was a great player and a hard worker, that’s really great. But most important to me is that I be a great teammate,” Larkins said.