For Samuelson, Indiana Felt Like Home Right Away

By Wheat Hotchkiss | FeverBasketball.com

When Katie Lou Samuelson was deciding where she wanted to sign in free agency, she kept going back to her visit to Indiana.

The Fever made an all-out effort to recruit Samuelson, flying her out to Indianapolis, where she met with general manager Lin Dunn and head coach Christie Sides and toured the team’s best-in-class facilities.

Heading into the visit, Samuelson – a Los Angeles native who last played for her hometown Sparks in 2022 – was a little hesitant about the idea of heading to a new city once again. But by the end of her visit, any hesitation was gone.

“Having Indiana bring me out and show me that I can still feel like home no matter where I am was something that was really special,” Samuelson.

“Just getting to go see what the Fever had in person and seeing what Coach Sides and Lin are trying to do and build, I could really feel it being there in person. And I think seeing the locker room and seeing the practice court and seeing all these resources that I haven’t necessarily had as a player yet was something that was really important to me.”

Samuelson officially signed with the Fever on Feb. 1 and spoke with the media for the first time on Thursday morning. She is in Columbia, Mo. with the Vanderbilt women’s basketball team for a road game (Samuelson joined the Vanderbilt staff in January as the program’s director of player development) and planned to hop on a Zoom from her hotel room. But as fate would have it, the fire alarm went off in the hotel just before the Zoom was supposed to start, so she bundled up her six-month-old daughter, Aliya, and took the call from outside the hotel.

Samuelson’s life has undergone significant changes over the past year. After playing four WNBA seasons for four different teams, she sat out last season after becoming pregnant. She gave birth to Aliya in August and has been learning how to balance motherhood with a return to competing at the highest levels of basketball.

“It’s been a hard process coming back from having my daughter,” Samuelson said. “I’ve been injured before, I’ve had injuries where I’ve been able to kind of still train and do what I needed to do through it. But with her, I kind of had to start from ground zero up again after having her. So trying to get back to where I wanted to be and how I want to feel, it was a harder process mentally…I’ve put in a lot of work to get to where I want to be.”

Samuelson was back on the court in December, where she helped USA Basketball capture a gold medal at the 2023 FIBA 3×3 AmeriCup in Puerto Rico. One of her teammates in that competition was Fever All-Star guard Kelsey Mitchell.

Since the 3×3 competition, Samuelson has continued to ramp up her training to be prepared to play five-on-five basketball this summer in the WNBA. She also accepted the job at Vanderbilt working for head coach Shea Ralph, who was one of her assistant coaches during her time at UConn.

As she navigates balancing her career and motherhood, Samuelson has leaned on other mothers like Ralph and her former UConn teammate Napheesa Collier, who gave birth to a daughter in May 2022 and then was an All-Star again last season.

Aliya also factored heavily into Samuelson’s decision to come to Indiana. The Fever provide strong support to mothers – Emma Cannon, who was on the roster the past two seasons, has a young son, while assistant coach Karima Christmas-Kelly gave birth to a baby boy last summer – and also have their own practice facility that is accessible at all times of day, allowing Samuelson to find time to fit in work in between naps and feedings.

Now 26, Samuelson said becoming a mother has reinvigorated her passion for basketball and she has a completely different mindset heading into her fifth WNBA season.

“Since having her, my whole perspective on training, basketball and everything has kind of changed for the better,” Samuelson said. “I’ve been able to play because I want to play and I want to do something for her…All the things that used to bug me before, they just seem so small now.

“I feel like I know what hard is now compared to what I thought was hard before.”

On the court, Samuelson figures to be an ideal fit in the frontcourt for an up-and-coming Fever team. A 6-foot-3 forward known for her shooting and length, Samuelson can play either forward position and could slot right in at small forward next to 2022 All-Rookie NaLyssa Smith at power forward and 2023 WNBA Rookie of the Year Aliyah Boston at center. With Mitchell on the wing and the number-one pick in the upcoming 2024 WNBA Draft, the Fever appear poised to rise up the standings and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

“Watching games from afar last season, not being a part of it, I really got to see just a different perspective on every team and everyone playing,” Samuelson said. “The way that the Fever competed for 40 minutes and the way that Coach Sides is building a team that she wants to play and practice harder than everyone in the league, I really do believe in what she’s trying to do.

“That was one of the biggest things going into being there and meeting with her is I felt like she fully is putting her whole heart and soul into this team and it’s something that I want to be a part of.”

Over and over, Samuelson kept going back to her visit to Indiana as the reason why she decided to join the Fever. The organization sold her on their vision, on her potential fit, on providing support for Aliya and her family. It just felt like a situation that would bring out the best in her.

“I feel like I have a chance to just be myself and be who I am as a basketball player,” she said. “Clearly with sitting out last year, I want to come back and I want to play my best basketball that I’ve played. And I know that being in a situation where I can be vocal, I can be helpful and I can play passionately and play with the people around me, that’s something that I’m excited for.”