The start of the Indiana Fever’s 2017 season is Sunday, and the team heads into the new year after going through some noticeable changes in the offseason. Head coach Stephanie White left to pursue a head coaching opportunity at Vanderbilt University, and legendary Fever forward Tamika Catchings retired after a 16-year career, leaving big shoes to fill in each position.
“They know what we’re about. It’s a group of hungry players. They’ve embraced Pokey. We’ve got a great group of experienced players that are returning, good young talent. It’s really, really exciting.
It was the most important offseason in recent memory for Fever President & GM Kelly Krauskopf, and she attacked it by going after recognizable WNBA figures, hiring former Chicago Sky head coach Pokey Chatman and trading for veteran forward and five-time WNBA All-Star Candice Dupree.
For Krauskopf, the decisions were no-brainers, and at Monday’s Media Day, Krauskopf, Chatman and the team discussed how they feel like Indiana is in a great place with the season fast approaching.
When White left the Fever for the college ranks, Krauskopf knew what she was looking for in her next head coach, and Chatman checked off every box.
“I wanted to find someone if I could with great WNBA experience,” Krauskopf said. “When Pokey became available, I felt like it was a huge opportunity for our franchise.”
Chatman didn’t need a lot of convincing to sign on with the Fever.
“You have a pretty good sense of what things are like [in Indiana] because this league is small, players talk and there was just so much positive stuff coming from here,” Chatman said. “I can remember coming here for my visit, and I wanted to tell Kelly, ‘You can stop talking now, I’m going to take this job.’ It was easy for me.”
What Indiana gets in Chatman is a passionate leader with a successful WNBA track record. She coached the Chicago Sky for six seasons, compiling a record of 106-98, with four straight playoff appearances. Chatman led the Sky to the 2014 WNBA Finals, where they ultimately lost to the Phoenix Mercury.
Being a former Fever rival, Chatman has an appreciation for how things are done in Indiana. Her goal is to keep things mostly the same, while adding a few of her own wrinkles.
“There’s areas of play with this team that were very, very good and successful, and I’m not going to try and change that,” Chatman told the media. “I just want to enhance it. I think over the last couple of years you’ve seen an Indiana Fever team that’s tried to play a little bit of a faster pace. I want to continue that.”
As for the defense, Chatman wants the team to lock in, as excelling in this area is what can make Indiana a contender this season.
“She has some non-negotiables and that starts on defense,” veteran point guard Briann January said of her new coach’s style. “She wants us to be a better defensive team.”
“We weren’t at the bottom of the league at all, but she knows if we tighten up that, if we move from fifth to maybe third in the league, then we’re giving ourselves a shot because we have people that can fill up the basket and flat out shoot the ball. If we play defense, we’ll be able to be successful.”
In addition to Chatman, the other key arrival is Dupree. The 11-year veteran forward comes to Indiana with career averages of 14.7 points and 6.9 rebounds per game while shooting 50.3 percent from the floor and 81.3 percent from the free-throw line.
“Candice is a solid, very well-respected pro,” Krauskopf said.
“With the experience Candice has coming in, she’s won championships,” Fever guard Jeanette Pohlen-Mavunga added. “I think it just kinda brings a different feel to our team. Candice is very calm, so she brings that poised presence on the court for us, which is huge.”
Dupree will occupy the spot left by Catchings, and Chatman believes she is more than up to the task.
“It [Dupree’s play] may not be boisterous, but it’ll be effective,” Chatman said.
And while a new coach and starting forward make it seem like the team went through a drastic transformation over the offseason, when you actually look at the roster, the team itself is largely the same.
Indiana returns eight players from last year, as well as the core that reached the WNBA Finals in 2015. The Fever have been to the playoffs a league record 12 seasons in a row, and the presence of January, Pohlen-Mavunga, Marissa Coleman, Shenise Johnson, Erlana Larkins and Natalie Achonwa provide the Fever with the continuity they believe will take them far in 2017.
“We have a large portion of our team who has been to the Eastern Conference Finals, who’ve been deep in the playoffs, who’ve had multiple years with Tamika Catchings and knows what it takes to be successful,” January said.
“I mean everybody from the outside might be freaking out a little bit, but we’re pretty cool here. We know what it takes, and we know that everybody is going to need to step up so we can accomplish some of the things that we want to.”
And while the team is full of experience, there’s also enough youth to give the roster a sense of balance. This season, six of the Fever’s 12 players are in either their first, second or third year. Krauskopf believes the roster has the perfect mix to win now while developing talent for the future, and is ready for the action to get underway.
“They know what we’re about,” Krauskopf said of the team. “It’s a group of hungry players. They’ve embraced Pokey. We’ve got a great group of experienced players that are returning, good young talent. It’s really, really exciting.”