By Corey B. Elliot
INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Fever are poised and ready to repeat as WNBA champions this season as they try to become the first team in five years to do so. With the core group of starters and most of their roster returning from last season, Fever coach Lin Dunn has every reason to believe that this group can hang another banner as long as they use last season’s success as a motivator and not a distraction.
“It can be good and bad. Using last year as a motivator can be positive by using it to remind you that you’re everybody’s best game,” Dunn said. “Nobody’s going to overlook us or look past us. It’s a constant reminder that you have to be ready, not just for every game, but for every possession.”
The Fever’s defense of their championship started Saturday night with an 80-75 preseason comeback win over the San Antonio Silver Stars. Already, the Fever can feel the heat as the bullseye on their back continues to grow. The hunters have now become the hunted after their championship win .
But there may not be a better suited squad to go for a repeat than this basketball team. While the Fever understand what it feels like to win a WNBA championship, they also know what it feels like to lose one just as well.
“Let’s not underestimate the value that we got from 2009 in those five games in the finals. We look back and we all learned a lesson about how to win a championship,” Dunn said. “We should have won that championship in ’09 when we had them here and so we learned a lot from that.”
For 12th-year guard Katie Douglas, the feeling of losing that finals appearance was one she prefers not to remember but the motivation from falling short amplifies the desire to succeed even more.
“I’ve lost three times, I’ve been in that position where I’ve lost and I know that feeling fuels you and motivates and burns inside your stomach throughout the next season,” Douglas said. “This team isn’t satisfied with winning one championship. We’re hungry and greedy and I think both of those proponents are present here in camp.”
Douglas will be returning from an ankle injury that sidelined her last season, but she won’t be returning to an unfamiliar locker room. The Fever return 10 of 11 members from last year’s WNBA championship team and it’s just the right mixture for another run at a title.
“We’ve got our core intact with a great blend of players,” Douglas said. “We have a great mixture of ages and experience and I hope that has built our team to last for a few more seasons and a few more long runs.”
For the first time in her 12 year career, Tamika Catchings did not have to answer the same question that plagues some of the greatest to ever play their respective sport; ‘Is this finally the year you win a WNBA championship?’ A national champion at Tennessee and an Olympic gold medalist, Catchings can finally add WNBA champion to her list of accomplishments.
The upbeat veteran was playful with teammates at media day laughing and having fun. It was obvious the pressure was clearly absent but the desire, however, hasn’t faded.
Catchings wants more championships and a lack of respect and appreciation from the rest of the WNBA is a driving force to win more. Contrary to her coach and teammates’ beliefs, Catchings feels somewhat slighted and taken lightly.
“People underestimate us. I didn’t feel like there was a target on our back last year and even coming into this year I don’t feel like there is a target on our back,” Catchings said. “It wasn’t like I felt pressure before but every year we sit at this same table and I’m asked the same question, if this is the year. After we won, I feel like people were shocked and they’re not talking about us and I like that. I like being the underdog.”
The Fever’s home opener is Friday, May 31 and they will raise their championship banner during the ring ceremony. Every fan in attendance will receive a replica championship ring kicking off the season as the Fever try to repeat.
“It’s going to be fun,” Catchings said. “Everybody has an extra pep in their step this season. We are going to go out and have a lot of fun.