By Tom Rietmann | FeverBasketball.com
INDIANAPOLIS – With preparation for the regular-season opener in full swing, Indiana Fever Coach Stephanie White met the media Tuesday and provided answers for questions concerning the team’s overall health, a potential starting lineup and even her assistant coaches.
One question on another subject, however, kept bubbling up. It involved the team’s new offense. Are the Fever players making headway with its implementation?
White, in her first season as head coach, has installed a free-flowing, full-tilt attack that gives Indiana an element of intrigue as it heads into Friday night’s game at Chicago and Saturday’s home opener against Minnesota.
“My goal,” White said, “is really to get good at reading one another and understanding one another’s strength and weaknesses … by the end of June. (Then) it’s to be really good by the end of July, and hopefully be great at it leading into postseason.
“This year,” White added, “is about laying the foundation. I don’t expect to be perfect this year. We’re laying the foundation for the mentality it takes to play at that pace.”
Indiana finished the preseason at 1-1, with the new offensive approach earning mixed reviews. It’s about pushing the ball, creating open shots and enabling the Fever’s playmakers to show their skills in the open court – or at least before defenses can adjust in the halfcourt.
Point guard Briann January, whose speed seems custom-made for the offense, is eager to see its results amid the intensity of a regular season.
“(White) is really giving us the control to go out there, read the defense, do what we do best and put each other in positions to be successful,” January said. “For me, (it is being) able to go and drive and kick and put my teammates in positions where they can do their thing and I can get to the rim. It’s high-paced, it’s exciting basketball.”
Fever players are being cautious about bold proclamations. At times, however, their excitement about the changes made by White seems palpable.
“We have a lot of work to do,” said veteran Tamika Catchings, who has pushed the Fever to 10 successive playoff appearances. “We have a long ways to go. But I think once we start clicking and everything is moving, this team is going to be really fun to watch.”
Catchings, January and Erlana Larkins are all returning starters who sat out both preseason games for rest or healing minor injuries. White said Tuesday the health of her team is improving, with all of the players “back in a limited capacity, not all back 100 percent, though.”
White wasn’t ready to name her starters for the opening game. “It’s a work in progress,” she said. “I’m not going to be somebody who’s always set on starters, either. … We’ll see who’s healthy on those days before we make that assessment.”
Two players who impressed consistently during training camp were veterans Marissa Coleman and Lynetta Kizer, both of whom begin their second years in Indianapolis. The 6-foot-1 Coleman led the Fever to their preseason victory over Washington with a game-high 19 points in just 25 minutes. The 6-4 Kizer arrived at camp in standout shape and ready to compete for additional playing time.
“(Coleman) has really embraced the challenge and excelled in that challenge,” White said. “(Kizer) has been very aggressive on both ends of the floor; she’s been very vocal. Just having a year in the system gives you that confidence to come back and say, ‘OK, now I’m ready to make a difference.’”
Also holding potential to make a difference are the Fever’s two new assistant coaches, Gail Goestenkors and Gary Kloppenburg. Goestenkors was a highly successful college head coach at Duke and Texas. Kloppenburg, who worked with the Fever as Lin Dunn’s assistant from 2008 to 2011, went on to be head coach of the WNBA’s Tulsa team in 2012-13.
White, who’s in her first head-coaching role at any level, wanted experienced leaders sitting beside her on the bench.
“It was huge,” White said about acquiring her staff members. “I certainly want to work with people who are much smarter than I am. For me … having two assistants who have head coaching experience on a number of levels was really critical. Also, to have two people who have strengths that are my weaknesses was very important to me.
“They make me better every single day by their suggestions and the things they see. That makes our team better.”
Also making the team better, White emphasized, is the leadership role played by Catchings, a 14-year WNBA veteran. White (Purdue) and Catchings (Tennessee) played against each other in college and were teammates when Catchings first arrived with the Fever. White spent four seasons as a Fever assistant before taking over this year, seeing first-hand the impact that Catchings has on a club.
White knows that as she performs in her capacity as head coach, Catchings will provide the driving force in Indiana’s locker room.
“Tamika has been the heart and soul of this franchise,” White said. “And Tamika has laid the groundwork and the foundation for everything that we do in terms of our toughness and mentality and our effort level.”
And it all begins anew on Friday, with a fresh offensive look and a new head coach.