Fever sport new look for new season


The Indiana Fever’s nickname implies hot stuff, though a nickname that includes the word fever at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic may not make friends and influence people.

Still, no one will complain if the WNBA entry, adjusting to life in an artificial bubble world in Bradenton, Florida, for the duration of a 22-game season, can break out of its recent rut and make a playoff run.

Unlike NBA men’s players and the National Hockey League and more like Major League Baseball, the Fever’s 2020 season was not interrupted. It was halted before it began by ripple effects of the coronavirus.

But now, the Fever are on a countdown to reality, days away from a scheduled season-opening game Saturday against the defending champion Washington Mystics.

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]

After 12 straight playoff seasons, one of the longest runs in American professional sports, the Fever have been in a three-year slump, resulting in starting over in 2020.

Tamika Catchings, a 15-year star for the Fever, is now general manager. Marianne Stanley is the new coach. There are new players, some acquired through the draft. And at last, after the season being on hold since May, there will be games.

"When I saw the schedule, I kind of smiled," Stanley said. "In our first game, we test ourselves against the defending champions."

Under the WNBA protocol, all games will be played in Bradenton. Teams arrived, were tested for the virus, quarantined and then started practice. The Fever’s flight departure from Indianapolis was delayed because two members of the traveling party tested positive.

Stanley, a member of Immaculata College’s legendary teams of the early 1970s when she was a player, was most recently a longtime assistant for the champion Mystics. Separate from that nine-year association, Stanley was head coach of the Mystics and was the WNBA Coach of the Year in 2002. She called the delayed trip to Florida "a little speed bump" on the way to the bubble.

The Fever and other teams are getting used to staying permanently in one place, living in assigned housing, eating on the premises and being in a lockdown with about 200 people.

They are in Bradenton for one purpose: To play basketball. And following a 13-21 season, the Fever are hungry to reclaim their old identity.

"The schedule is not going to be easy by any means," said veteran forward Candice Dupree, in her 14th season.

Dupree, who has a career scoring average of 14.5 points and 6.6 rebounds a game, is the old sage of the club. No one else on the team has more than five years of experience. The team seems firmly set at guard with Tiffany Mitchell, Kelsey Mitchell, Erica Wheeler, Victoria Vivians, Kathleen Doyle and Julia Allemand.

The 5-8 Allemand is an interesting case. The native of Belgium is 24. The Fever selected her in the third round of the draft in 2016, but she has never played in the WNBA. She could be a wildcard addition.

It is also possible second-year forward Teaira McGowan, who steadily improved last season, will be able to throw her 6-7 size around even more this year. She drew raves from independent observers near the end of the season, and she is bringing a new level of confidence to this season. The former Mississippi State star ended up averaging 10 points a game in 22 minutes of play.

"I definitely think I can," McGowan said of the prospect of emerging as one of the WNBA’s best centers.

Those numbers are good indicators of promise.

"This is a big year for Teaira," Stanley said. "We’re expecting big things from Teaira."

The Fever also selected one of the most coveted players in the 2020 draft in 6-4 Lauren Cox out of Baylor. There are three rookies and three second-year players on the squad.

"We got a lot younger," Dupree said.

Basketball is the focus, but how teams fare during this season may be dependent on how they adapt to the bubble lifestyle. Comfort could matter when it comes to concentration.

The virus is always lurking, and it could affect players’ families, which are at home when they are living inside the cocoon. Professionals are supposed to be able to block out distractions, but whether it is basketball, baseball, auto racing or any other sport, the pandemic has created unprecedented times.

Catchings’ theme, if she did not use the same "play ball" words, is clear.

"We know what our path is," she said. "It has definitely been a trying time. For us, being as young as we are, we have a bond. I think as a league, it will make us stronger. Is it going to be easy? No, it is not."

No posts to display