In a 90-79 opening night loss to Dallas, the young Fever backcourt gave the franchise a lot to be excited about this season. Tiffany Mitchell, Erica Wheeler, and Brene Moseley combined for an enormous 38 points – almost half of the team’s total.
With veteran Fever guards Briann January and Marissa Coleman on the sidelines, these young newcomers will carry the backcourt in the season’s opening games.
“I like that there’s no fear,” Coach White said about the trio. “They’re confident. They understand what their role is and they’re continuing to get better in the system.”
Mitchell, Indiana’s 2016 first-round draft selection, had a breakout performance, going 7-of-10 from the floor and racking up 18 points to lead all scorers – the second-highest scoring effort in a rookie debut in franchise history. Who’s first? None other than superstar forward Tamika Catchings who had 23 points in her 2002 debut with the Fever.
Even after an outstanding first appearance, Mitchell acknowledges she still has a lot to work on.
“Reading ball screens a little better and being able to make that extra pass when people start collapsing on me in my drives,” are facets of her game Mitchell says she’ll continue to improve. “More than just scoring, I’ll work on being able to see the floor and have a broader vision.”
Mitchell started in place of Coleman, who recently returned from Turkey after her Fenerbahce team won its league championship. Coleman averaged 9.7 points per game in her two seasons with the Fever and is expected to make her return to play this week.
Moseley, the Fever’s second-round pick, added seven points in her league debut. The rookie point guard also had an impressive showing in the preseason with two double-digit scoring efforts: 16 points against Dallas and 12 at the Washington Mystics.
Another new face to the club, Erica Wheeler, contributed 13 points as starting point guard for the Fever, tying her career high. While Wheeler may be new to the Fever, she’s not new to the league. Wheeler spent her rookie season with the Atlanta Dream and New York Liberty in 2015, averaging 4.5 points and 11.3 minutes per game.
Wheeler says her first year in the league helped her adjust to the style of play.
“It helped me with the pace because the pace is faster than it is overseas and in college, being able to catch on quicker and keeping focused,” she said. “You go through things quick, so you have to keep that focus.”
Wheeler, who was signed as a free agent by the Fever in February, started in place of Indiana veteran point guard January who is recovering from offseason knee surgery. Fever coaches expect January to make her 2016 debut with the team in the next few weeks.
The veterans, and in large part January, have played key roles in the development of the young players by offering advice, motivation, and perspective.
“I’ve been talking to Bri a lot about the plays and my defensive rotations,” said Mitchell. “She just knows everything as far as their system so I’m trying to get advice from her, and information from her, on what I need to do. She’s definitely been on the sidelines talking a lot and trying to help us and put us in the right spots.”
“Bri is always in my ear, because from that point guard perspective she always helps me to see things I don’t see,” added Wheeler. “All the other veterans are great. Catch, E [Larkins] and Nat [Achonwa] always encourage me to pay attention and stay focused. They’re always keeping me fresh.”
So far, Indiana head coach Stephanie White likes what she’s seeing from the young Fever players.
“I like that there’s no fear,” White said about the trio. “They’re confident. They understand what their role is and they’re continuing to get better in the system. I also like that they’re terrific defenders. It’s so important that they’re good defenders for them to be able to get on the floor and they all are.”
According to White, these young players will need to continue to learn the system in order to really maximize their potential.
“You’ve got to have vision to be able to see things through,” explained White. “Seeing the next pass and being able to see multiple options in our offense instead of just the primary or secondary option are things they’ll have to improve upon.”
“There are obviously a lot of things that they need to work on. Everybody’s bigger, faster, and stronger at this level; but at the same time I’m really happy with their progress, and I think they’re going to be big contributors for us.”
The Fever and their young backcourt will face another tough test on Wednesday night as they take on experienced Phoenix Mercury guards Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor.
“It’s going to be a great master’s education for them going against two veterans that are Olympians and really understand how to play and understand the system,” said White. “First and foremost, they need to mentally be ready for the challenge. Physically, we’ll put them in positions to be successful. They need to be able to go out and to execute, continue to defend at a high level and continue to be aggressive to the rim.
“All of those other pieces that they lack in experience they’re going to gain. We’re going to continue to get better and build more chemistry on both ends of the floor.”
While the veteran guards may return to play soon, the newcomers will have their chance to make a tremendous impact on this season.