"Tamika Catchings’ smile refuses to dim. She is a bundle of energy as she talks to a circle of reporters. The WNBA all-star, entering her sixth season with the Indiana Fever, has every right to be excited as she waits for the season to officially begin Saturday, May 19 against the Minnesota Lynx at Conseco Fieldhouse. “Every media day it’s like, ‘This might be the year,’” she says. “This really could be the year. There is no reason with the players we have we can’t win it all.”
Championship fever is spreading amongst her teammates. The symptoms are everywhere: a beaming smile and the belief “it’s our year.”
The last few seasons the Fever has been a contender, but nothing more. Connecticut and Detroit stood in the way. They are still the teams to beat, perhaps strengthening their stances atop the Eastern Conference during the off-season with key player moves. But the Fever has assembled a lineup with enough power to knock its rivals to the ground when the time comes.
The team inherited guard/forward Sheri Sam and signed free-agent center Tammy Sutton-Brown from the now-defunct Charlotte Sting franchise. It drafted the 6-foot-7 center Alison Bales, who blocked 4.4 shots a game for the Duke Blue Devils during this past NCAA season, and traded Olympia Scott to Phoenix for sharpshooter guard Ann Strother.
The team is stronger, taller, quicker and deadlier than any Fever team has been.
It may very well be its year.
“We’ve been evolving,” says head coach Brian Winters. “Now we have to see how all the pieces we brought in fit. To be a championship team you have to have balance. You have to have an outside game and an inside game. We have good players at every position and it’s probably the most talented team we have had so far.”
The team now owns one of the most formidable front-lines in the league with Sutton-Brown and Bales bolstering Tamika Whitmore and Ebony Hoffman at the center and power forward positions. The backcourt should also be improved with guards Tan White and KB Sharp focusing on their shooting and the addition of Strother, a dangerous three-point threat during her college career at Connecticut. Last season, the Fever finished 12th out of 14 teams when it came to offense. Anna Deforge feels that will change this season. “What this team needed was more outside shooting,” she says. “If somebody has a bad game we have more people to step up. The added depth is only beneficial.”
One of the problems for any WNBA team during the preseason is getting all of its players to camp. Fever players spent upwards of seven months competing in places like South Korea, France, Israel and Siberia. They are still waiting for Sam, Sutton-Brown and Whitmore to arrive. But playing only three games in the first 19 days of the season will allow the team time to shape into a solid unit.
“Everyone is willing to learn. Everyone is willing to work hard. Everyone is willing to try to figure out ways to mold together,” Catchings says of her teammates. “We definitely have the components to make this a championship caliber team.”
Catchings has won at every level of the game, capturing two state championships in high school — one in Illinois and one in Texas. She helped Tennessee win the 1998 NCAA championship. In 2004, she won an Olympic gold medal. A WNBA title has been elusive though. “It is the only one that’s missing,” she says. “But hopefully not for long.” And that smile grows even larger.