Katie Douglas has a pregame shooting ritual. Assistant coach Gary Kloppenburg passes the ball to her and she launches three pointers from one corner, slowly working a clockwise semi-circle around the court. This evening the Indiana Fever are in Chicago for a road game against the Sky. Douglas' shots are falling uneven. Sometimes they swish through the net. Sometimes they roll off the rim with a clang. But she keeps shooting.
Kloppenburg challenges her with an outstretched arm and she fires over him, again and again. He runs at her but she dribbles behind her back and moves past him for a jump shot.
Two nights ago, on June 25, the Fever opened a coast-to-coast road trip with an 85-81 loss to the Seattle Storm, the WNBA's best team. Douglas scored 29 points. She says she would rather score two points and win than have a big night and lose.
"It was a playoff atmosphere," she says. "Seattle is leading the league and they are the team to beat in the West. But I was proud of our effort. We battled."
The Chicago Sky is 6-8, but they are no pushovers. They hold victories over Seattle and Eastern Conference powers Atlanta, Washington and Connecticut. When the game begins, Douglas is struggling and the Sky plays the Fever tough.
First she misses a three pointer. Soon after she grabs a rebound, pushes the ball up the court, drives inside for a lay-up and misses. Tully Bevilaqua rebounds a Chicago miss, throws a crosscourt pass to Douglas for another three. No good. Douglas posts up Erin Thorn, pivots for a jump shot. No good. Tamika Catchings tries to throw a pass inside to a cutting Douglas, but the ball hits the tips of her fingers and falls out of bounds. With 90 seconds left in the first half, she has the ball and the Sky opens wide, allowing her clear passage to the basket. No good. Thirty seconds remaining, Douglas, in the far left corner, launches yet another three. This one goes in. She remains standing there, her arms still posed in follow through, staring at the basket that has, until now, been so unkind.
The Fever wins the game. Chicago battles to the end, but a Tammy Sutton-Brown block on Sky center Sylvia Fowles leads to a series of desperation fouls. Indiana seals the victory at the free throw line.
Douglas finishes with 10 points. Catchings scores just four. "You're going to have games like that," Douglas says in the locker room, postgame. "Down the stretch we were able to finish it out. We had some key players off the bench step up and make up those points for us that Tamika and I normally get. It was a total team effort tonight."
She scans the box score, stopping at Sylvia Fowles with17 rebounds. "Whoa," she laughs. A mischievous grin appears, the kind that says you're in trouble and it's a safe bet head coach Lin Dunn will have something to say to the players about rebounding. But at this moment Douglas shrugs everything off with a smile.
Revisiting the Finals
Katie Douglas knows about shooting slumps. Last fall the Fever was on the brink of a WNBA championship. Through three games of the five game series against the Phoenix Mercury, Douglas was averaging nearly 20 points and shooting 47%. But when game four came, in front of a sold out Conseco Fieldhouse, Douglas shot 2-14 from the floor for seven points. Phoenix won 90-77, forcing the decisive game five back in Arizona. This time, Douglas scored 13 points, but only hit four of her 14 attempts. The Mercury took their second title with a 94-88 victory.
"It just happens when you're a shooter," Douglas says of those two nightmare games. "You go through times when the basket seems like an ocean and then there are times when it feels smaller than a dime. It definitely wasn't the most opportune time, but I feel like I'm not focusing so much on my shooting but being an overall contributor as a player. I can do other things than score and shoot. I can set my teammates up."
Douglas says professional sports athletes need a short-term memory. She doesn't remember the last game. She doesn't dwell on a performance. She tries to maintain her confidence and attempts to never get too high or too low.
Overall, she can reflect on the 2009 Finals and call it a positive experience. "We didn't win, but not many WNBA players get to go the Finals," she says. "We know how much work we needed to do in the offseason to get back there. But people should appreciate and cherish the opportunity. I told my teammates to not take it for granted. Enjoy the experience. I know it's a tough road to get back to the Finals." She told them to identify aspects of their game they wanted to improve on and work on those skills during the winter.
It seems her teammates listened. While the Fever started 2010 slow thanks in part to Bevilaqua being the only starter in training camp -- Douglas, Catchings, Sutton-Brown and Ebony Hoffman did not return to Indianapolis until the day before the WNBA season began due to their overseas playing commitments -- they are finding the championship groove they need to return to the Finals. The Fever bench has emerged as the team's collective MVP, averaging 33 points a game, 43% of the offense. As they proved in Chicago, if Douglas and Catchings are off, the rest of the team can now step up and cover for the superstars.
"I think we'd like to do over a couple of early games from when we all got back from Turkey," Douglas says. "But we've been able to put things together and get in sync and get back to playing Fever basketball."
It's something Douglas does best: rebound from adversity. She's developed that trait her entire life, the ability to persevere through extreme circumstances. While trying to return to the Finals seems trivial in light of what Douglas has gone through in her short lifetime, the Fever have adopted her moxie and are better for having her around.
Losing her parents
Douglas discovered basketball just like any Indiana kid does. There was a hoop in her yard. It was the 80's and she didn't have video games and cell phones to distract her. She spent her days playing ball with her brothers and the neighborhood kids.
But softball was her first organized sport. Her father loved baseball and would take her to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs play. As her interest in basketball grew, she reached a crossroads where too many athletic commitments were waiting for her in the summer. She had to make a decision. She chose basketball. Her father was not a fan, had no use for the NBA. But he supported her.
Unfortunately, both Ken and Karen Douglas would never see their daughter proudly wear her Fever uniform. When Douglas was just 18, an Indiana All-star out of Perry Meridian, her father died from pancreatic cancer. In 2000, her mother would succumb to breast cancer.
Stephanie White, Douglas' former Purdue teammate and current Sky associate coach, remembers Douglas's struggles to adapt to college life following her father's death.
"Katie is not someone who would come right out and tell us she was struggling with something," she says. "The biggest strength of our team at Purdue was we were a family. We cared about each other on and off the floor. We didn't necessarily have to go to her and ask if she needed anything but she learned she could come to us when she did. For her -- being the type of person she is, a very private person -- we didn't want to overstep those boundaries. So it was a matter of walking a fine line of trying to be a good teammate and letting her know we were going to be there for her."
In 1999, the Boilermakers won the national championship by defeating Duke 62-45. Douglas calls the victory the highlight of her career. But despite the triumph, Douglas faced off-the-court turmoil as her mother's health declined.
"Basketball helped me cope and I was able to use it as an outlet and refuge. It helped clear my mind," she says. "You also can't question why these things happened. You have to trust there is a plan."
Douglas is now a strong supporter of breast cancer awareness. "My mom's mother had breast cancer as well," she says. "I know my chances."
Following the national championship, Kristy Curry came in as head coach. She has seen Douglas persevere and become the strongest competitor she has ever coached. "I have two little girls and if they grow up to be like Katie they will be alright," Curry says. "She is the type of player girls should look up to. It was an honor to coach her. She is a great example of how someone should handle themselves on and off the court."
In 2001 Douglas led Purdue back to the national championship game. This time the team faced Notre Dame in an epic battle. With 5.8 seconds remaining, the score tied at 66, Douglas's fellow 1997 Indiana All-star, Ruth Riley, sank two free throws for an Irish lead. Douglas would hurry the ball down the court, launch a three-pointer, but the ball would ricochet off the goal, giving Notre Dame the title.
Curry credits Douglas' leadership and clutch play as keys in the 2001 run. She wanted to take her team back, the coach recalls. Despite losing, Douglas calls the moment special, especially when considering the Connecticut dominance and the lack of competitive championship games in the last decade.
Off to the "W"
Just weeks after the Notre Dame game, Douglas was full of nervous jitters while waiting to be drafted into the WNBA. "As athletes we like to control things and you can't control the outcome of where you are drafted," she says. "But it's exciting because you become a professional athlete as soon as your name is called."
For Douglas, that moment came when the Orlando Miracle selected her with the 10th pick (earlier, with the third pick, the Fever drafted Tamika Catchings). "It was a great experience to get out of the state and build a professional career," she says. While wins were hard to come by, Douglas was a key contributor for the Miracle, averaging 7 and 8.5 ppg her two seasons with the team.
But her time in Orlando was short-lived. Following the 2002 season, the team moved to Connecticut, leaving behind its staff, becoming the first independent team in the WNBA, meaning no NBA team supported the franchise. Douglas was devastated.
The move would be the best thing for her, however. Under coach Mike Thibault, her game flourished. Soon she was a starter, and then she was a key contributor in Connecticut's 2004 and 2005 Eastern Conference championships. She made her all-star debut in 2006, leading the East to their first victory against the West. She scored 16 points, grabbed 5 boards, and dished four assists in just over 17 minutes. She was awarded the MVP award after the game.
But when the Sun decided to retool their line-up, Douglas asked for a trade. "I didn't think I had the patience to work through the revamping so I asked for the trade," she says. "I wanted to have a professional career in Indiana."
On a cold February day in 2008, Katie Douglas came home. It was a moment many Fever fans expected was inevitable, others only hoped for.
"What excites me so much is she gets to play in her home state," says Curry, now coaching the Texas Tech Red Raiders. "Katie takes a lot of pride in being an Indiana girl. It's an important part of her heritage. I'm so happy she will probably get to finish her career in her home state and city. She deserves that."
On July 8 the team played its first home game in nearly three weeks. They went 2-2 during their time away from Conseco Fieldhouse. After the game Douglas and Catchings went to Connecticut for the WNBA All-Star Game. It was a unique affair this year, pitting the US national team, featuring Catchings, against Douglas and the WNBA all-stars. Douglas had been invited to be a part of USA basketball, but at this point in her life making a four-year commitment was unappealing.
She is thrilled to be honored by the WNBA coaches and selected to her fourth all-star competition, though. "It's not only an honor for myself but for the franchise and the success we're having," she says. "We didn't start off well [this season] but we are picking things up and putting them in place."
And there is no better example of that than how the Fever is dismantling the Tulsa Shock. At halftime they lead 56-34. Douglas is only 3-9 from the floor, but when the second half starts she does what she does best, keep pushing ahead.
When some players make their move to the basket they will cut through their defenders, become a blur of team colors until the ball crashes off the backboard into the basket. Douglas is long and lanky, malleable, not the fastest player on the court. But when she makes her move it's like time and space bends to her will. She'll move past a screen, catch a pass, spin, shoot a three-pointer. You can feel the sudden impact of her defender colliding with the screener vibrate through the arena. You can see fluttering wisps of Douglas's hair as she twirls toward the basket, and sense the air separate, ushering the tan and white Spalding ball as it floats up so peaceful, drifting over the players on the court who gaze at its arc, the opponents hoping it misses, teammates confident but prepared, all bending their knees, stretching their arms, bracing their bodies, wanting to burst upward, grab the ball, and BANG! Eight thousand Indiana Fever fans explode as the orb plummets through twine and Douglas runs the other way, nonchalant, just a day's work. Always a determined glare in her eyes.
One single minute illustrates Douglas's resiliency. With 4:57 remaining in the third quarter, Douglas takes a Bevilaqua pass and drills a three. Thirty seconds later she's swiped an Ivory Latta pass and scores on a fast break lay up. Twenty seconds click away and she hits a 19-foot jump shot.
Time out, Tulsa. Fever lead 71-41.
Douglas walks to the bench, greets her teammates, their arms outstretched for high-fives. She's calm and collected, though. Cool. Her seven-point outburst is nothing. Some nights that's just the way things go.
Katie Douglas bio
High school: Perry Meridian
Honors: Indiana All-Star (1997)
Honors: Kodak/WBCA All-American (2000, 2001), Associated Press All-American (2001), Big Ten Player of the Year (2001), NCAA Women's Final Four All-Tournament Team (1999, 2001), Jim Valvano Comeback Player of the Year (2001), Academic All-American (2000, 2001), Purdue Athlete of the Year (2000, 2001), Purdue Intercollegiate Hall of Fame (2009)
WNBA: Orlando Miracle (2001-2002), Connecticut Sun (2003-2007), Indiana Fever (2008-current)
Honors: WNBA All-Star (2006, 2007, 2009, 2010), WNBA All-Star MVP (2006), WNBA All-Star Three Point Shootout champion (2010), WNBA All-Defensive Team (2005, 2006, 2007), All-WNBA (2006, 2007, 2009)
Indiana Fever vs. LA Sparks
When: Thu., July 22, 7 p.m. 2010
Phone: (317) 917-2727
Price: Prices vary
The Indianapolis Fever takes on the LA Sparks on Thursday, July 22, 7 p.m., at Conseco Fieldhouse. Ticket prices vary. Tickets can be purchased at the Conseco Fieldhouse Box Office, all Ticketmaster locations, or by phone at (800) 745-3000 or online at www.ticketmaster.com.