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Indiana Fever Preview: New era coming for 2012 champs

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Fever will begin the 15th season in franchise history on May 16 at Chicago, but already the 2014 campaign promises to be special.

As announced Tuesday by the Fever, Lin Dunn will retire as head coach at the end of the season. In her 37th season as a pro or college head coach – the last seven of which have been with the Fever – Dunn will be replaced on the bench in 2015 by current assistant Stephanie White.

“It’s time for a new challenge,” said Dunn, who will take a consulting role with the Fever. “I have truly treasured my time with Pacers Sports and Entertainment. I am thrilled that we won the 2012 WNBA championship for our franchise and our fans, and I appreciate the opportunity I’ve had to work with (general manager) Kelly Krauskopf, (president) Jim Morris and our owner, Herb Simon.”

As Dunn noted, the franchise highlight so far was the 2012 title. A championship repeat was thwarted last summer by a host of injuries, although the squad still made it to the Eastern Conference finals before bowing out. The most notable medical absence a year ago was that of Katie Douglas, who played only four games because of a bad back and has since returned to the Connecticut Sun, where she began her WNBA career.

The 2014 season is very much the beginning of a transition period for the Fever. In addition to the final go-around for a coaching Hall of Famer, a host of new faces dot the Indiana roster.

With just over a week to go before the Fever tip-off against Chicago, here’s how things stack up for Indy’s other professional basketball franchise:

The Legend

Any discussion of the Indiana Fever has to start with Tamika Catchings, who was named one of the WNBA’s Top 15 all-time greatest players in 2011. The league’s all-time steals leader, Catchings is the lone player in WNBA history to rank among the top 25 career leaders in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks – and Catchings actually ranks in the top 10 in each of them.

Catchings, who turns 35 in July, averaged 17.7 points last season, one full point above her career average. At practice last week, Catchings was eager to embark on her 13th season.

“Our training camp is not like a traditional training camp where you have a couple weeks to kind of get adjusted,” she said. “So, we have literally a week to get ready for our first (preseason) game, so the pressure’s on just to come out and really be ready to go and look good.”

The Rookie

Natasha Howard (Florida State) has been the talk of training camp. The six-foot-3 forward and the Fever’s first-round draft pick (No. 5 overall), Howard, is most often described as “unique” for her skill set.

“She is unique, and that’s the reason we drafted her with the fifth pick in the draft,” Dunn said. “She’s a legit 6-3 player with almost a 7-foot wingspan that has great speed and quickness. She’s got some things that we can’t teach and that’s her ability to run the floor.

“And I think you’re seeing our game develop just like you’ve seen the NBA, where your bigs have perimeter skills. And I think that’s what Howard has, and that’s what caught our attention right from the get-go.”

In the Fever’s preseason opener against Washington on Tuesday, Howard scored a team-high 14 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the floor.

A native of Toledo, Ohio, Howard netted 20.4 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 2.1 steals for the Seminoles as a senior to earn All-ACC First Team and All-ACC Defensive Team honors.

“After having the opportunity to watch a little bit of college career, when we drafted her I was like, ‘Yes!’” Catchings said. “I think for us, she definitely brings something different that we haven’t had. She’s got size, and she’s able to handle the ball coast-to-coast.”

Howard’s role model is Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City guard and recently announced NBA 2013-14 MVP. Howard admires Durant’s work ethic and commitment to community. She hopes to pattern her WNBA career after the Thunder star.

“When I was in middle school, I told myself I was going to get drafted into the WNBA,” Howard said. “And it’s reality. My dream came true. Hard work pays off, but I’ve still got to keep working hard.”

The Post

Howard joins a Fever preseason roster that includes three players standing a team-best 6-4: Lynetta Kizer (trade acquisition from Phoenix), Victoria Macaulay (rookie out of Temple) and Ziomara Morrison (one year of WNBA experience, with San Antonio in 2012; she played in Chile most recently).

Erlana Larkins (6-1) ranked eighth in the WNBA in rebounding last season at 7.8 boards per game, and the forward returns to lead a suddenly thorough Indiana post presence.

“I’ve been here since 2003 (first as a scout and assistant coach), and this is definitely the deepest post group that we’ve ever had,” Dunn said. “I think one of the things that hurt us last year is that we just didn’t have enough post players by the end of the season. We’ve got size, we’ve got speed, we’ve got depth, we’ve got experience.

“So I’m excited about the versatility. We’ve got the quickness, we’ve got the length, we’ve got the power, so it’s really our best group ever.

The Expectations

With Catchings, the bigs, an experienced backcourt that includes Shavonte Zellous (14.7 ppg) and Briann January (9.8 ppg, 3.7 apg), plus guard/forward combos Karima Christmas (8.6 ppg) and Marissa Coleman (4.6 ppg), the Fever aim to send their longtime coach out with one more banner year.

“Championship, every year we go after a championship,” January, entering her sixth season with the Fever, said of expectations. “Anything less is a failure to us. We know what it takes to get there and we want to get back. We have that taste in our mouth, we know what it feels like. And once you feel that, you don’t want anything else.”

Including college stops at Purdue, Miami and Austin-Peay, Dunn, beloved for her charm and Southern wit, has posted a 664-453 (.594) record in 37 seasons as a head coach. But she will be remembered for more than her on-court success. Dunn helped usher in a new era of women’s basketball, and has been crucial to central Indiana’s embrace of the Fever.

She, too, is pointing toward one final title run.

“If you work for Pacers Sports and Entertainment, you’ve got two things you’re trying to do: Win championships and be role models while giving back to the community,” Dunn said. “And I think had we had a few less injuries last year and maybe a little bit more depth in the post, we could have gotten back to the Finals.

“I was really proud of what we were able to do with a depleted roster. So, we’re thinking stay healthy, find some fresh young players and let’s go after it again.”


2014 Fever Schedule

Date Opponent Time

May 16 at Chicago 8:30 p.m.

May 17 Atlanta 7 p.m.

May 23 Washington 7 p.m.

May 25 at Atlanta 6 p.m.

May 29 Connecticut 7 p.m.

May 31 New York 7 p.m.

June 6 at Washington 7 p.m.

June 7 at Connecticut 7 p.m.

June 11 Seattle 7 p.m.

June 17 at Connecticut 7 p.m.

June 20 at Chicago 8:30 p.m.

June 22 at Minnesota 7 p.m.

June 25 Tulsa 7 p.m.

June 27 Phoenix 7 p.m.

June 29 Atlanta 6 p.m.

July 1 at Atlanta 8 p.m.

July 2 at Washington 7 p.m.

July 5 San Antonio 5 p.m.

July 8 at Tulsa 8 p.m.

July 10 Connecticut 12:30 p.m.

July 12 Atlanta 7 p.m.

July 15 Los Angeles 8 p.m.

July 17 Chicago 7 p.m.

July 19 All-Star Game 3:30 p.m.

July 22 at Chicago 8 p.m.

July 26 at San Antonio 8 p.m.

July 28 at Los Angeles 10:30 p.m.

July 31 at Seattle 10 p.m.

August 2 at Phoenix 10 p.m.

August 5 Minnesota 7 p.m.

August 8 Washington 7 p.m.

August 10 at New York 3:00 p.m.

August 14 New York 7 p.m.

August 16 Chicago 7 p.m.

August 17 at New York 6 p.m.

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