BENNER: Indiana Fever are adding a little sizzle to summer

July 6, 2009
Last week’s column about the wide array of events on our July sports calendar in Indy was glaringly lacking in one aspect:

The Indiana Fever.

As of this writing, they are the hottest team in the WNBA, reversing an 0-2 start and racing to six straight victories.

The streak put the Fever in first place in the Eastern Conference and had them tied for the best record in the league. Certainly, the winning streak carries with it no more guarantees for success than the 0-2 start was a reason to write them off.

Yet the bounce-back shows this team may have the mettle and moxie to go with the in-place talent to finally make a deep playoff run and perhaps win over fans skeptical of the product.

By the time you read this, the Fever will have hosted Connecticut at Conseco Fieldhouse, but they still have five home games this month. Check ’em out.

Speaking of the Fever, perennial all-star Tamika Catchings was honored June 28 with the Rev. Charles Williams Award during the Pathfinder Awards at the Fieldhouse. Catchings’ recognition was somewhat overshadowed by Pathfinder recipients Jack and Barbara Nicklaus and NCAA President Myles Brand, who put in a brave appearance as he continues his battle with pancreatic cancer.

The Williams Award, named for the late president of Indiana Black Expo, is for “direct service” to Indiana youth. I’m not sure the community realizes how much time Catchings, who now makes Indianapolis her home, spends interacting with kids—impressionable kids—around town.

Catchings’ acceptance remarks reflected that she knows her God-given talents and earth-bound status require of her a higher degree of give-back. She does so not because she sees it as an obligation, but because it’s truly part of her nature.

It takes only a few minutes with Catchings to be taken in by her engaging persona. In short, she’s a delight.

Heck of a basketball player, too.

My hope is that Tyler Hansbrough will be of similar quality both on and off the floor. What’s not to like?

The Indiana Pacers’ first-round choice—selected 13th overall—in the June 25 NBA Draft was a four-time all-American at the University of North Carolina, college basketball’s player of the year, the Atlantic Coast Conference’s all-time leading scorer, and a four-year player who bypassed early entry into the NBA so he could stick around to win a national championship.

Yet, when announced at the Pacers’ draft party, the reaction to Hansbrough was mixed at best. Despite a college career marked by work ethic, intensity and success, many believe Hansbrough is too short (6 feet 9 inches), too slow and not athletic enough for NBA post play.

I can add another qualifier to the skeptics’ list. He’s too white.

Indeed, I’ve read some are convinced team President Larry Bird pandered to the team’s “conservative” fan base in selecting Hansbrough.


Bird is driven by one objective: to assemble the best core of players possible here with but one caveat, and that is that they can be counted upon to not inflict further damage to the franchise’s reputation.

Pacers fans will embrace a team that wins with character and players who conduct themselves with the knowledge that they represent more than themselves. Players represent a community and a proud legacy.

As for Hansbrough’s impact on the Pacers, ask me in a year or two. I like the fact Hansbrough comes to Indiana with something to prove. And when Bird compliments his work ethic, that’s the highest of praise.

Finally, I was saddened by the passing of Paul Lennon and Jerry Lyst. Growing up as a fan of Coach Branch McCracken’s Hurryin’ Hoosiers at Indiana University, I used to watch Lennon open Hoosiers’ game telecasts by holding a bag of Chesty Potato Chips and asking, “I’ve got my ticket … have you got yours?”

And I did.

Lyst, the longtime editor of The Indianapolis Star, was the consummate gentleman who always provided me with support and encouragement, especially during those years when I had a contentious relationship with a certain IU basketball coach.

Lennon and Lyst were both great Hoosiers.


Benner is director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.




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