Fever’s Achonwa wins prestigious award


On the eve of the Indiana Fever’s opening game of the 2020 season in Florida, forward Natalie Achonwa was announced Friday afternoon as the WNBA’s winner of the Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award.

Achonwa, a 6-foot-3 forward who was a 2014 No. 1 draft pick of the Fever, is the conduit for a $10,000 donation to Indianapolis’ Madam Walker Legacy Center that will be split evenly among four aspiring women advancing entrepreneurial ideas.

The award, presented since 2008, honors Staley, a three-time American Olympic gold medal winner, former WNBA star guard and national championship college coach.

Achonwa, 27, said she has wanted to be a community voice who can help women and black women in particular. A Canadian by birth, Achonwa starred for Notre Dame between 2010 and 2014 and considers Indiana to be another home.

In 2018, her best season, Achonwa averaged 10.3 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, and in 2019, she averaged 8.7 points and 5.2 rebounds. Current Fever general manager Tamika Catchings, one of the greatest players in WNBA history, won the first Staley award and won it again in 2016.

Achonwa, who called herself “an adopted Hoosier,” said she “completely stole that phrase from her (Catchings).”

Catchings praised Achonwa as someone who has matured since she joined the team and grown into a position of leadership for the Fever.

The Fever open the summer season in the WNBA’s own “bubble,” a cloistered environment similar to the NBA’s Orlando operation, at 5 p.m. today against the defending champion Washington Mystics.

After missing the playoffs for three straight seasons, the Fever have made numerous roster changes and would like to believe this fresh start will produce victories.

“I’m really excited by the challenge,” Achonwa said. “I love being the underdog that everyone calls us young.”

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