The Indiana Fever are ready to put a tough 2017 season in the rearview mirror and started that process Thursday night at the 2018 WNBA Draft presented by State Farm. The team knew it needed to reenergize its roster and owning picks No. 2, 8 and 14 presented opportunities to add impact players early and often.
And that’s exactly what general manager and head coach Pokey Chatman did. Some of the nation’s top players are headed to Indiana in the form of Ohio State’s Kelsey Mitchell (No. 2 pick) and Stephanie Mavunga (No. 14 pick) and Mississippi State’s Victoria Vivians (No. 8 pick).
“I’m extremely excited,” Chatman said of the draft class. “Don’t misunderstand me, they’re about to experience a level of basketball they didn’t know existed. They’re watching it, they’re clapping for it, but the piranhas will be out the second they step on the floor. But, they have the courage and the skill set to get through that tough time, and that’s what’s exciting for me.”
Mitchell is a prospect the team simply couldn’t pass on. Known for her offensive prowess, the point guard rewrote school and NCAA record books during her four years in Columbus. Her list of accolades is impressive:
- Second-leading scorer in NCAA history (3,402 points)
- Most made 3-pointers in NCAA history (497)
- 4-time All-American
- 2018 Dawn Staley Award (presented to the nation’s top guard)
She brings offensive firepower the team lacked a season ago and should provide an instant boost to an offense that ranked second to last in the league in points scored per game.
“I think it’s one of those things where she can play some 1, some 2,” Chatman said. “We thought it would be a nice piece to reload and get ourselves back in contention.”
While her scoring is obviously impressive, Mitchell thinks she can also play like a true point guard and get her teammates involved offensively.
“I think I’m a willing teammate to the point where I only see others,” Mitchell said. “I like to see things and try to envision things for other players. I just like to keep my head on a swivel and bring that to the Indiana Fever.”
Vivians, who is also a four-time All-American and participant in the last two NCAA national championship games, could fit in right alongside Mitchell in the backcourt. And while playing in under coach Vic Schaefer gives her the reputation of being a formidable defender, she was no slouch on the offensive end of the floor, averaging 19.8 points per game her senior season. She comes to Indiana as the second-leading scorer in Mississippi State University history.
“She’s a 6’1″ guard,” Chatman said. “She can swing and play a little bit of 4, allows you to play small while still spacing the floor. She has courage. She plays with this really nice calm, but she’s learned how to be a more efficient player in every aspect of the game.”
“They [Fans] can expect an all-around game,” Vivians said of her play. “I came from a defensive school so I’m not worried about defense. Whatever coach wants me to do I’m ready to do it. Anything they need I’m ready.”
Finally, Mavunga is a player with ties locally and to the team. Before playing at Ohio State, she starred at nearby Brownsburg High School and her sister in-law is current Fever guard Jeannette Pohlen-Mavunga. She knows Fever guard Tiffany Mitchell from USA Basketball activities and shared the court with fellow draft pick Kelsey Mitchell at Ohio State, so she couldn’t be happier to return home and come to a team where she’ll already know some of her teammates.
“I’m just so excited, so grateful for the opportunity, and I’m beyond blessed,” she said.
On the court, she’s a fierce rebounder. Mavunga grabbed 11.0 rebounds per game, and even finished one contest this season with a school record 26 boards. Mavunga was also an efficient scorer as a senior, averaging 16.6 points per game on 63.2 percent shooting.
“Steph is that hungry type player that plays bigger than her actual size,” Chatman said. “She rebounds out of her area. She runs the floor like a guard. I think one of the most important things that’s she done was she changed her body, her eating. Most players figure that out their second or third year, so she’s ahead of the curve there.”
All in all, it was a memorable night for the organization. With every pick, cheers rang out from the draft room at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, as well as Brothers Bar & Grill in downtown Indianapolis, where more than 500 fans had gathered for the team’s official draft party.
The team got better today and for Chatman, the night really couldn’t have gone any better.
“This is what we wanted. We went through all the scenarios, and you really have to just hone in on specific areas of what you need. We’re ecstatic.”