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Commentary: This game gave me Fever

July 21, 2008

It's time for more people around here to take note of the "other" professional basketball team in town: the WNBA's Indiana Fever.

And that means all the men out there who won't give women's basketball a fair shake, the men who think women can't play the game.

I know they're out there because I was one of them.

I stand before you this week humbly acknowledging the error of my ways. I have learned; the women can play!

I had the good fortune to secure two courtside seats to a recent game, the first I've attended. It was a great experience all around, and I came away loving the game and the Fever players.

Now in its eighth season, the team is poised to take hold big time, in good part because of a number of savvy moves made during the off-season both on and off the court.

These moves came following two years straight in which the Fever made the playoffs, the buzz growing louder after last year's first-ever advance into the second round.

Last December, the team hired Head Coach Lin Dunn, regarded as one of the most successful women's basketball coaches ever in her 39-year career as a college and professional coach.

Around these parts, Dunn is most widely known for putting the Purdue University women's basketball program on the map. She coached the Boilermakers from 1988 to 1996.

Most important, "Lin knows how to win," and she lives and breathes basketball, according to Fever General Manager Kelly Krauskopf.

In February, the Fever added to its roster major star power and a Hoosier favorite by hiring Katie Douglas, former Perry Meridian High School all-stater who was runner-up for Indiana Miss Basketball.

Douglas went on to make a name for herself at Purdue, helping lead the Boilermakers to the NCAA title in 1999. She joined the WNBA in 2001 and spent the last five seasons in Connecticut.

Krauskopf calls Douglas one of the "elite" players in the WNBA, adding that combining her talents with Fever favorite Tamika Catchings gives the team two first-team WNBA all-stars.

Catchings, who will play for the U.S. Olympic team in Beijing in a couple of weeks, has played only half the games this season. She's still recovering from a torn Achilles tendon suffered in the playoffs last year.

When she's back up to speed, look out. This one-two punch coupled with the rest of the Fever team will make them a prime contender for both conference and league titles the next few years.

(By the way, there's another Fever Olympian: Point guard Tully Bevilaqua will play for home country Australia.)

Perhaps most important for the Fever are new blood and a renewed commitment in the front office. Team management pledges to make sure both the Fever and the Indiana Pacers play at a high level and provide a fan experience that increases attendance and breeds loyalty.

New Pacers Entertainment CEO Jim Morris and coowner Herb Simon have been hands-on in running both teams the last several months and active in getting out into the community to demonstrate their commitment and generate support.

Both are huge Fever fans.

When asked recently by IBJ why the Fever is so important to him, Simon replied, "Because it's a wonderful asset for this city to have these wonderful women who are quality people playing a fundamentally fabulous game of basketball."

Simon told IBJ the Fever were one of his three top priorities, along with stopping the negativity around the Pacers and reorganizing management to be responsive to fans, players and employees of both teams.

Those moves are just a few of the signs that things are starting to come together for the Fever. Already this year, season-ticket sales are up 28 percent. Give credit to management, especially Krauskopf, for maximizing the Indiana connections with Douglas and Dunn.

While the team's record is hovering only around .500 at this point, I'd look for great things in the future. And I'd try to catch one of the five remaining home games this year.



Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ. To comment on this column, send e-mail to ckatterjohn@ibj.com.
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