Thursday, June 04, 2015

Looking Beyond 2015 with the Indiana Fever

Stephanie White may be nervous, but it doesn't show. She's been preparing to take over as a WNBA head coach for the last several years. And she's been thinking about the mark she's going to leave on the game, especially with her former teammate and now star player, Tamika Catchings.

"One of the things I frequently speak to Catch about is where we want this franchise to be long after we're gone," she said in a recent Media Day interview. My daughter, Maddie, and I were able to attend, having been long-time Fever bloggers.

"We have seen the tremendous growth, and really she has been the heart and soul of laying the foundation of what the Fever has been about," White said. "And she wants to maintain the direction she has steered us. I'm always talking to her about continuing to show the other players what that is."

Those leadership lessons make sense, because Tamika is planning on retiring after the 2016 Summer Olympics, and she's already making plans about what she wants to do.

"Have you thought about coachin—"

"No!" she said. And she said it fast. I didn't even get the question mark out of my mouth, and she was all over that.

"No!"

Catchings absolutely does not want to coach. At all.

White was asked the same thing about Catchings, and she just snorted.

Catchings says the problem is that no one works as hard as she does. She's at the practice facility every day at 6:00 am, and she works for at least 90 minutes a day. Including the off-season.

"No one else does that," she said. "If I could have even just one player who worked as hard as I do, I'd think about it."

"So basically you've created your own problem then," I said. She just smiled.

But Catchings' hard work is just what White is going to need with her new faster-paced offense-oriented game plan. She's looking to make the game go faster, not letting the other team rest, and it means Catchings is going to run more and rest more. So she's in the gym every day, making sure she's ready.

Even though that's White's big change, she's not going to change how they work or what they stand for.

"A lot of things are going to stay the same," said White. "This franchise has been built on core values of defending at a high level and being tougher than our opponents, of playing aggressive tough-minded defense, and then grind it out offensively. I want to change our offense to make it easier."

So White is not coming into this as a greenhorn rookie coach. She's been preparing for this for a few years, because that's how former head coach Lin Dunn thought — always ahead, three or four moves beyond the moment. In White's case, a couple of years beyond the moment: she named White her successor two years before she retired.

"Lin has helped me prepare by challenging me as an assistant coach, getting me to think three, four, even five possessions and five counters down the road, because that's how she prepared," said White.

Speaking of thinking ahead, 7-year veteran Briann January is already looking to her future, and it may end up being in the broadcast booth. She's the host of Bri-TV, the Fever's video interview show they host on their website. During our time at Media Day, we watched Briann interview teammate Jeanette Pohlen and White.

When we caught up with her, I asked her if Bri-TV was a little practice for her post-basketball career.

"It is something I would like to get into, maybe. Coaching is one of the things I've been setting up for post-career, but you never know," she said.

"If you get into broadcasting, would it be just basketball, or all sports?" I asked.

"I think I can hold my own in any arena, but I absolutely love talking about basketball. That would be easy," said January

"We're in Indianapolis, and there's only been one other female reporter for IndyCar," I said, referring to IndyCar pit reporter Jamie Little, who made the move to NASCAR in February.

"Oh, really? I could do some research and get into that," she laughed.

I asked January if she was the likely successor for team leader.

"I've tried not to think about that, because what Tamika has done for Indiana and the Fever is huge," January said. "And to carry that load is a little intimidating, but I do believe after six years of being behind her, watching her lead, and growing my game and leadership skills, I think I, and the other veterans on this team, could take her role and run with it, and be one of the better WNBA teams year in and year out."

When I asked White about who was going to fill Catchings' shoes as team leader, she said, "I don't know who's going to do that now. I think that's going to evolve naturally. But I see Briann January taking the right steps in that direction in terms of her leadership, in terms of being vocal. Bri is a lot like Catch was when she was a young player, leading by example, by how hard she plays, by how competitive she is, how tough she is. And she has started to progress in her vocal leadership as well. But we're also going to see other leaders emerge over the next couple of years."

So 2015 is going to be a year of transition. New players and a new coach coming in, older players making noises about leaving in two seasons. Things are already taking shape to give us a new look at Indiana's favorite women, and all eyes are on Stephanie White and Tamika Catchings to take the Fever back to the playoffs one more time.



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