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Today (today today today) ….
…. Los Angeles is dead last in the West ….
…. New York has the league’s worst record ….
…. Connecticut is in second place in the East and the only team to beat conference leaders Atlanta and Phoenix.
It’s just as the prophecies foretold.
The “W” in “WNBA” stands for “wacky.”
• • • •
“Just go ahead and say it — better,” Dunn interjected. “They’re better. They had three Olympians. We don’t have three Olympians.”
Dunn will tell you that she never had the best players wherever she coached, so she had to find other ways to win, namely using defense to make an opponent’s life hell.
Dunn and the Fever have a mental toughness on par if not better than anyone in the league. They won the 2012 title after Katie Douglas went down with an ankle injury in the Eastern Conference finals. They swept top-seeded and more talented Chicago in last season’s East semifinals. They’ve hung in this season without their leader Tamika Catchings, out indefinitely without a back injury. They won at Washington earlier this month when starters Briann January and Shavonte Zellous were out injured, too (64-61, June 6).
“I think we have a culture that we’ve tried to establish with the Fever,” Dunn said. “We’re going to defend, we’re going to rebound, we’re going to play hard, and I think that comes from Tamika Catchings being the face of our franchise. That’s who she is, and whoever your best player, whoever your key player is, you have to build around her values.
“The good thing is she and I value the same thing. At the end of the day, we’re going to defend and we’re going to play hard and we’re going to be tough-minded, so that carries over. So we try to bring in people that are that way, and if you’re not, then you just don’t fit in to our system.”
Statistically, Indiana is seventh out of 12 teams in defensive field goal percentage. Its opponents have, however, turn it over an average of 18.1, tying it for first with Atlanta.
The Fever were down nine points early in the second quarter at world champion Minnesota on Sunday. The Lynx finished the half shooting 61 percent to Indiana’s 42 percent.
The Fever led at halftime, 41-35, as they scored 11 points on 13 Lynx turnovers.
Minnesota won, 83-77, because it has Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen and no one else does, but you get the point. Indiana’s defensive philosophy — we’re not going to make it easy for you.
“One of the things that we emphasize 24-7 is defense,” Dunn said. “There’s going to be nights where you can’t hit the broadside of the barn. There are nights where you can’t do what you want to do offensively, and so we just say that you can still defend hard.
“I’m a defensive coach first.”
Dunn and her staff also have a knack for helping castoffs transform themselves into quality contributors. Jessica Davenport was the second overall pick in the 2007 draft. She struggled her first two seasons and was waived by New York. Indiana signed her and she blossomed. She wasn’t an All-Star, but she helped the Fever win.
Karima Christmas averaged 12 minutes with Tulsa over 14 games during the 2012 season. Indiana acquired her for Roneeka Hodges that summer. The 6-foot, 180-pound guard-forward has given the Fever a physical presence.
Erlana Larkins is the best recent example of a player who found her niche with Dunn and Indiana. She was drafted 14th overall (first round) by New York in 2008 and waived to start the 2010 season. She was cut at Phoenix’s camp the next season.
Indiana signed Larkins to a training camp contract in 2012. She rewarded them with 9.9 points and 10.9 rebounds during the playoffs. The 6-1, 205 forward is second in the league in rebounding (10.8).
“We were looking for a rebounder,” Dunn about Larkins. “We were looking into all the free agents, trades, anywhere around we were looking for somebody that could help our rebounding. Catchings is still a great rebounder, but she’s 34, 35 years old. Once she got into her thirties, she needed help. More than anything, we were looking for somebody that really had always been a great rebounder, and Larkins was that in college. She was that even in the WNBA whether she lasted or not, she was always a tough rebounder”
“I think that’s something we’re good at (developing players). I’m proud of the fact that players that come and play for us get better. They’re not the same as when they came in, and if they don’t get better, then we made a mistake with who’ve we brought in. We really work hard to develop the players. I think we’ve done a good job developing Larkins. I think (Marissa) Coleman is going to thrive. She’s been in a whirlwind trying to figure out all the different things that we’re doing, and then at the same time, we’re asking her to defend maybe the best player on the other team, which is something she’s probably never been asked to do since she’s been in the WNBA.
“So we start out with players (saying), ‘let’s don’t limit you. Let’s see what all you can do, not what you can’t do,’ and I think we’re pretty good at trying to. Kharima Christmas is another that nobody wanted that helped us get all the way to the (East) finals last year because she’s a hard worker, she’s mentally tough, and she’ll do whatever we ask her to do.”
Mental toughness. It’s been as big a trait as defense for Indiana. Players like January and Zellous aren’t going to be first-or-second team All-Stars, but both are stubborn and can defend.
(Note that Zellous started for Galatasaray this offseason and helped them stun Russian powerhouse UMMC Ekaterinburg on the way to the FIBA EuroLeague championship, a first for a Turkish team. Sun center Kelsey Bone played for Galatsaray as did and Spainard Alba Torrens, who’s rights are held by Connecticut.)
Asked if it’s possible to make a player tough-minded, Dunn said, “I think it’s hard. I think it’s hard to make somebody taller, too. I think it’s hard to make somebody a lot quicker. I think by the time we get them, they may have the potential to be tougher, but if they’re not pretty tough minded, I just don’t see how you can all the sudden make that change.”
The peak of the Dunn years was 2012 when Indiana both rallied from two games down to beat Connecticut for the Eastern Conference title, and beat defending champion Minnesota for the title.
Douglas, the Fever’s leading scorer, went down with an ankle injury five minutes into Game 3 at Connecticut and missed the rest of the playoffs.
Indiana’s bench scored 32 as it routed the Sun, 87-71, to win the East. It also made 10 3-pointers.
The Fever followed that with a four-game upset over the Lynx, featuring Olympians Augustus, Moore and Whalen.
“I thought that the turning point for the whole 2012 playoffs was Game 2 (of the Eastern Conference playoffs) when we won in Indy,” Dunn said. “They had already won Game 1 because they had home court, and then in Game 2, with about 12 seconds left, they’re up and shooting a free throw. They miss the free throw, we come down the floor, and January (misses a layup), dives out-of-bounds (for the loose ball), and slings it back into Zellous, and we score at the buzzer.
“You could feel an enormous momentum change. It kind of ignited our run, you know what I’m saying? We come back up here. We’re extremely focused. We’re like, okay, ‘here we go.’ We’ve got something special going here. And then Katie gets hurt, and (Jeannete) Pohlen comes in and hits five threes. And we not only win here, we blow them out of the building.”
“You could just see the momentum building and somebody else steps up. You preach it all the time, be ready when your time comes, and it actually happened in that series. We just had a lot of confidence. We weren’t afraid to go to Minnesota. We weren’t going in hoping to win. We weren’t going in wishing (to win). We we’re going in thinking, ‘hey, we’re just as tough as they are.’ And that paid off for us. We had to win the first game, though.”
Indiana won Game 1, 76-70.
“When you’ve got Tamika Catchings and Erlana Larkins and Briann January, that’s a lot of toughness. If you’re going to war, you want them on your side. And then don’t underestimate Zellous.”
Douglas said, “We just had that never say die attitude. We didn’t care what the media and the critics and the outsiders were saying. It was about the people in that room. The team, the personnel and the staff and management, knowing that we had one goal and we were so desperate. We were desperate for that goal. We understood that this team could be broken up the next year if we didn’t win a championship. We were just so hungry and just so desperate to win, so I feel like that’s how we were able to counter that, three Olympians, a defending champ. Not having home court. So many difficult obstacles to overcome. We formed such a bond.”
• • • •
You are greatly encouraged to go HERE and check out Nneka & Chiney's Challenge to support UNICEF's efforts in Nigeria.
Via their webpage:
This fundraising competition is open to all girls youth basketball teams! Middle school and high school aged girls are all encouraged to participate. Totally up to you if you want to create a team from your school, AAU or other basketball league. We have three major goals for this competition:
1. Engage American girls basketball players in community service. You all have the power to make a difference and we would be honored if you’d do that with us!
2. Raise awareness among Americans about what is happening right now in Nigeria. It’s not just the terrible situation with the kidnapped girls – there are a lot of needs for girls in Nigeria. Click here to get more information about what’s needed.
3. Raise money for UNICEF Nigeria's emergency fund that will help to support programs such as girls education and girls empowerment among other critical initiatives protecting and saving the lives of children.
SHOW THEM WHAT THEIR PRIZE IS....
• The grand prize for the team that engages the most donors is a private basketball clinic from Nneka and Chiney! The Ogwumike sisters will travel to your town and run a clinic with the winning team!
• Every team who engages 30 donors will get autographed pictures from Nneka and Chiney
• Every team who engages 60 donors will get a private Google Hangout opportunity with either Nneka or Chiney
• The top five teams that engage the most donors will receive autographed limited edition Nneka and Chiney UNICEF posters – autographed by both Nneka and Chiney
• The player that engages the most individual donors will receive an autographed jersey from both Nneka and Chiney
• The players that engages the second and third most individual donors will receive autographed basketballs from both Nneka and Chiney
• • • •
Sun coach Anne Donovan was asked a few weeks ago about mental toughness and whether or not that it could be taught.
“A good example for me is Bill Laimbeer, back in the days when he had the championship teams with Detroit and they were all (tough),” Donovan said. “They were all in the mindset that you’re talking about. … I do think it comes from within.”
“Indiana has done a great job getting players like that. Larkins is one. … She was out of the league, she got her body fit and came back with an edge to her. She always had an edge. Now she has an edge with a chiseled body and a lot of confidence. January, Katie Douglas, Catchings, they all have that mindset.
“We stole some of that in KT, and that’s why (we got her).”
Asked if anyone else on Connecticut had that mental toughness, Donovan said, “Chiney (Ogwumike) has it. She’s just so young. She’s still trying to figure it out, but she’s definitely got it, and she’s going to continue to build that relationship with Katie where we have an inside presence and an outside presence. I’ve watched Kelsey Griffin come a long way in that regard, but we don’t have those intrinsic nasty personalities here that I think is really where it starts.
“I don’t think we have that kind of group (nastiness). I’d like (Kelsey) Bone to be that personality for us.”
• • • •
Thibault acquired Greene from New York during the 2011 WNBA Draft for Sydney Colson, who he drafted 16th overall that day. Greene started in 64 of 67 games in two years with Thibault.
Kelsey Griffin and Greene were the only two who played every game during Connecticut’s morose and injury-riddled 2013 season. Greene, who played her 2010 rookie season in New York under Donovan, was one of the last players cut at this year’s camp.
Thibault acquired Greene off waivers two days later. Her upbeat attitude and gregariousness has made her one of his all-time favorites in the league.
“The discussion I had with her before we took her was that, ‘your role on this team isn’t any different than when you played for me before,’” Thibault said. “‘You may never get in some games, and can you handle that? And she said, ‘yeah, I’m all about winning,’ which she is. She’s about team stuff. She can help teach the younger players by having gone through the experience, particularly the two UConn players (Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley) because she was in their boat not so long ago.
“The other part of it is that she just kind of gets what you’re supposed to do in this league to be successful, and so she’s been great. She’s been a cheerleader. She’s a good practice player. She makes Mo Currie and Tiera Ruffin-Pratt better. There are going to be situations where I will use her. I just tell her to be ready. I don’t know when it’s going to be.”
• • • •
The New York Liberty signed former UConn star Charde Houston on Monday. The 6-foot forward was waived before training camp by Seattle, which had acquired her in a March trade with Phoenix. Houston has played six seasons with both Minnesota and Phoenix and has averaged 19.1 minutes and 9.2 points. She was a 2009 WNBA All-Star.
• • • •
BEHOLD, things that you must read, listen and watch:
El Sol's website: A video on the Sun's Inspiring Women honorees. I'm late to the party on this one.
Dapper John Altavilla, Hartford Courant: Coach Donovan knows it takes all kinds to make Sun mesh.
Melissa Isaacson, ESPNW.com: The miracle that is Jessica Breland.
WNBA.com: A little video on the effervescent and upbeat Tamika Catchings. I want her to be my life coach. I'm serious.
David Siegel, Dishin & Swishin podcast: New Seattle Storm COO Alisha Valavanis and the Ogwumike sisters.
• • • •
That’s all for now. More tomorrow. Promise. We won’t be delinquent this time.
Vaya con dios.