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
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
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.