Layshia Clarendon of California was drafted 9th overall by the Indiana Fever.

2012 title means nothing to this year's Fever

May 6, 2013 - 1:06pm
MVP Tamika Catchings guided the Fever to the 2012 WNBA Championship. (Photo by Lee Michaelson)

MVP Tamika Catchings guided the Fever to the 2012 WNBA Championship. (Photo by Lee Michaelson)

The Indiana Fever's championship run last season was a textbook example that basketball is a mental game.

With second-leading scorer Katie Douglas and Jeannette Pohlen injured in the playoffs, there was no way the Fever should have won the title. But other players stepped up, and the entire team refused to settle for anything less than the trophy -- a first for the franchise.

It would be easy to carry that blazing momentum into 2013, but coach Lin Dunn isn't having any of it.

"This is a new season and we're starting over -- we can't carry last year with us," Dunn said. "We're going to start over and build, and see what we can do. The first day of training camp is a whole new year."

Having four new players and one 2011 returnee in camp is conducive to the veteran coach's mindset. It will also make for an epic battle for the small and power forward positions, as forwards dominate the roster.

"It's going to be a real competitive camp, because only (Tamika) Catchings and Douglas are guaranteed," Dunn said.

The only non-returning player from last year's championship squad is Tammy Sutton-Brown, whose contract the Fever opted not to extend. Dunn said it wasn't personal. ,"She's had a huge positive impact on our team, and is a great person. We're going to miss her," Dunn said. "But we needed to get younger."

They got that in first-round guard pick Layshia Clarendon from Cal, whose exceptional midrange game was showcased during the NCAA Tournament. Indiana took dynamic forward Jasmine Hassell in the second round.

"We were very excited to get Layshia," Dunn said. "She can shoot, defend, and play multiple positions."

Dunn said they were pleased that Hassell was available in the second round, because she's a quality player. "She is strong, physical - she's a banger," Dunn said.

Other newcomers are forward Bernice Mosby, formerly of the Washington Mystics, who has played the last three years exclusively in Spain; and forward Jessica Breland, who was cut in Mystics camp last season.

Shyra Ely-Gash, who tore her ACL last year just prior to Fever training camp, is also back.

Though it's a new season, Dunn said those who make Indiana's roster will have to embody the toughess they exhibited in last year's playoffs.

"We're going to defend, we're going to run, we're going to rebound," Dunn said. "That's part of our core values, along with giving 110 percent effort at all times. We want those players who bring toughness, resilience, and who never give up."

Unlike many, who are already giving this year's trophy to Phoenix and No. 1 draft pick Brittney Griner, Dunn said the title is still very much up for grabs. "Griner will have a huge impact on our league; we haven't seen anyone like this in our game," Dunn said. "But she will have an adjustment period. She'll need to be able to keep up with the speed and the physicality in this league."

The Indiana Fever will attempt to defend their 2012 WNBA Championship with few changes to their roster (Photo courtesy of the Indiana Fever/NBAE)

Point guard: Briann January, Erin Phillips

This is probably the position the Fever need least to worry about. January averaged 10 points per game in the regular season, and when Phillips was in, she ran the point just as effectively. Both guards averaged double digits in the playoffs, and showed that they rise to the occasion in big games.

Shooting guard: Shavonte Zellous, Jeanette Pohlen, Layshia Clarendon

Zellous has been a solid contributor, but she bettered her season scoring average in last year's playoff run by shooting the lights out. If she can sustain that momentum, she will be in this year's starting lineup.

Pohlen will have to get a little quicker and score more if she hopes to keep up. She is a good player, but her team is full of those.

Clarendon will make the roster because she's fast, has a deadly midrange game, and can run the point as well as make shots from anywhere on the floor. She also has a work ethic and poise on the floor that is similar to Tamika Catchings'.

Small forward: Katie Douglas, Erlana Larkins, Karima Christmas, Bernice Mosby

If Katie Douglas has indeed fully recovered from the severe ankle sprain she sustained in last year's finals, she should pick up where she left off last season, which was 16 points per game. She and Catchings are a potent duo on court.

Larkins was another player who elevated her performance in last year's playoffs, with strong play under the basket for 10.9 rebounds per game. Does she know what she can do now? If she believes in herself, it will spell trouble for opponents.

The Fever picked up Christmas in a July trade, and the former Blue Devil showed moments of brilliance. She will have to become more of a scoring threat, however, to make this year's cut.

Mosby is another player who has made her way back to the WNBA after playing several years overseas, so what she can do is yet to be seen.

Power forward: Tamika Catchings, Jessica Breland, Shyra Ely-Gash, Jasmine Hassell

Catchings is not only the Fever's top scorer, she's their heart and their emotional leader. Last year's playoffs MVP has an impeccable work ethic, and was healthy last season. She is one player Dunn won't have to worry about.

Breland has been on three different teams since being drafted in 2011. She will have to work hard and prove that she deserves a spot on Indiana's roster. She has overcome cancer of the lymph system, and is accustomed to a fight.

Ely-Gash was a reserve when she last played for the Fever, and her injury has kept her away from the game for a long time. Whether or not she can still be effective enough, as she approaches 30, remains to be seen.

Hassell made a case for herself during the NCAA Tournament with solid play, including scoring 13 points in Georgia's surprising upset of Stanford. She is physical, aggressive, and has a good chance of making the cut.

Center: Jessica Davenport, Sasha Goodlett

This is the Fever's weak spot, as neither center candidate is a prolific scorer or rebounder. Davenport averaged 6.7 points and 3 rebounds per game in last year's regular season, and Goodlett, 3.1 and 1.6.

Dunn listed both players, Breland, Hassell and Ely-Gash as contenders for the four or five, indicating she's keeping her options open. If she takes all four power forward candidates and cuts Davenport and Goodlett, it wouldn't be surprising.