The Indiana Fever are less than two weeks away from kicking off their preseason and less than a month from their home opener, but already there’s lots to talk about.
The team came just short of winning the WNBA championship last year, falling in the finals to the Minnesota Lynx. Now, second-year head coach Stephanie White aims to get her team back to the championships this year.
As I fill in this week for The Score’s Anthony Schoettle, who is taking some well-deserved time off, I offer seven things to expect during this Fever season.
A tough goodbye. Ten-time All-Star Tamika Catchings will be playing in her final season after spending her entire career with the Fever. One of the league’s greatest players, Catchings has averaged 16.4 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game throughout her 15-year career and was the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2011. She’ll turn 37 during the season. In a fitting farewell, Catchings has announced that her foundation—Catch The Stars—will sponsor a Legacy Tour and provide $2,000 grants to organizations in each of the 12 WNBA cities. The grants will go to community organizations that promote fitness, literacy and mentoring. She will be missed.
But also hello. The Fever selected University of South Carolina shooting guard Tiffany Mitchell in the first round of last week’s WNBA draft. The two-time SEC Player of the Year and three-time All-American was the ninth overall pick after leading the Gamecocks to the Final Four in 2015 and Sweet 16 in 2016. She averaged 13.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game during her college career. Fever President and General Manager Kelly Krauskopf calls Mitchell “pro ready” and lauded her worth ethic. The Fever also selected Maryland point guard Brene Moseley in the second round and Belgian point guard Julie Allemand in the third round.
New threads. The Fever (and most other WNBA teams) will be sporting new uniforms this year—and gone are the home whites. The Fever’s uniforms will be gold (or, really, yellow) when the team is playing at home and blue when they’re away. Adidas and the WNBA unveiled the color palettes last month. Only the Los Angeles Sparks and San Antonio Stars kept their old uniforms because they didn’t use white home jerseys anyway.
Original trio. Speaking of the 20th anniversary of the league, it’s interesting to note that only three of the WNBA’s original teams remain. Others have moved or shut down while new teams launched. Those three teams—the New York Liberty, Phoenix Mercury and Los Angeles Sparks—will have 20th season patches on their jerseys. The Fever joined the league in 2000.
Taking flight. And speaking of teams that move, the Fever will open both its preseason and regular season against the Dallas Wings, a team that moved from Tulsa during the off-season. The first preseason game will be at 1 p.m. on May 1, and the home opener will be at 6 p.m. on May 14. Both games will be at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. As the Tulsa Shock, the team finished 18-16 in 2015 before losing to the Phoenix Mercury in the playoffs. Before moving to Tulsa, the franchise played in Detroit as the Shock, where the team won three WNBA championships.
Also on the schedule. The WNBA has made several changes to its scheduling and playoff formats. First up, teams will play more games (three in 2016 versus two previously) against non-conference opponents. Teams will play conference opponents either three or four times each. Also, the playoffs will now feature the eight teams with the best records, regardless of their conference (previously, four teams from each conference qualified). In addition, the playoffs will expand from three rounds to four with the top two seeds receiving byes into the third round and the third and fourth seeds receiving a bye into the second round. Teams will also be re-seeded after each post-season round. A little confused? Me too. But NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum assures on WNBA.com that “the new postseason format provides an enhanced opportunity to showcase the best teams in the WNBA Finals.”
Counting fans. Also interesting this season will be whether the Fever’s attendance goes up after the team’s run to the championships last year and as fans celebrate Catchings’ final season. The Fever averaged 7,485 fans last year. It was the third year of declining attendance but still beat the league average of 7,318. In fact, the Fever ranked 5th in attendance in the WNBA last year.