Stephanie Mavunga never looked back after hearing her name in the 2018 WNBA Draft. She was ready to return home. Mavunga played basketball at Brownsburg High School. After high school, she quickly departed to the University of North Carolina. After playing two years in Chapel Hill, Mavunga transferred to Ohio State to finish her college career. Now, she is back home in Indiana.
Her first day of practice with the Indiana Fever wasn’t the first time Mavunga stepped inside of Bankers Life Fieldhouse. She toured the venue back in 2008 when her brother won a state championship alongside Gordon Hayward and their Brownsburg teammates. Stephanie played in the Big Ten Tournament the past two years with the Buckeyes at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, earning 2018 all-tournament honors and delivering a monster performance with 26 points and 21 rebounds in a semifinal win over Minnesota.
Rebounding is something Pokey Chatman really likes about Mavunga, but her ability to snag so many rebounds is also noticed by her OSU and Fever teammate Kelsey Mitchell, with whom she won back-to-back Big Ten titles.
“Stephanie is an energizer bunny both on and off the court. She’s aggressive and going to make it known that she’s going after the ball and her rebounds will be strong. She definitely makes her presence known,” Mitchell said.
Last summer, Mavunga had another distinctive experience inside The Fieldhouse; this time with Jeanette Pohlen-Mavunga, her sister-in-law and then a Fever player.
“Last summer I was on the practice court and shot around with Jeanette so the very first time I came here to practice in actual Fever gear it was so surreal.”
Even though Jeanette does not play for Indiana anymore, Stephanie was happy to be drafted alongside former OSU teammate Kelsey Mitchell. Mitchell and Mavunga knew there was a chance to play together in the WNBA but neither of them expected it to be so soon.
“I was in shock when I heard we were going to be teammates again, but I was also really excited. It was nice knowing we’d both go in as rookies and struggle at first and then rise together later on,” Mitchell said.
Outside of basketball, Stephanie is thrilled to be close to home and family during her rookie season. Even though Brownsburg is about 30 minutes from Bankers Life Fieldhouse, she stays in the same apartment complex with several teammates but tries to go home every two or three days to spend time with her family.
“Besides basketball, the best part of Indy is always seeing my family and friends. Since I grew up here, I know where everything’s at and even my teammates ask about places to go and eat and I can tell them if it’s a good idea or not,” she said with a trademark smile.
“I haven’t had a single bad moment here. There hasn’t been anything for me to dislike with this team,” Mavunga said.
Stephanie was just happy to hear her name called on draft night but knew Pokey Chatman truly wanted her. Mavunga is stepping into a different role this year for the Fever, playing more of a four spot than the five, like she played in college. The pressure of learning a new role can be hard for some, but Mavunga chooses to embrace it. Through five games, she has scored 10 points with five rebounds over 34 minutes. Her best game was at Connecticut last weekend, scoring eight points with four boards.
“It’s all about learning my role. I just bring what I can to the team, like rebounding, and go all in. There isn’t any pressure to be a huge star right now and pressure is taken off of me because I have all of these professionals around me helping me learn my role,” she said.
What goes around comes around, and Mavunga sees it. After becoming IndyStar Miss Basketball in 2013, Stephanie knew she would play college ball, but never quit working for her dream-hearing her name on draft night.
“It’s a blessing how things have come full circle for me. I really have to drop to my knees and thank God for this one.”