A Youthful Fever, Feeling Growing Pains
By Dorothy J Gentry and Tyler Berry
On most days, what does it feel like being the head coach of the Fever for Pokey Chatman?
“I feel like an elementary school teacher with all the questions and I love it,” Chatman said. “Often times at this level, you don’t get that because there’s not an influx of young players. So I’m loving the teaching part.”
The Indiana roster has a large core of young players.
“I also like the fact that they’re (the young players) not afraid to ask questions. I like the fact that there’s a list of things and we’re checking them off one by one.
“The list is long with each player and rightfully so, but I like the fact that they’re excited to become true students of the game.”
The Fever are one of the youngest teams in the league with an average age of 25. Their roster makeup includes four rookies, including this year’s No. 2 draft pick Kelsey Mitchell, Stephanie Mavunga, Victoria Vivians and Hind Ben Abdelkader. The oldest player inexperience is veteran Candice Dupree (12 years). Erica McCall has one year of WNBA experience followed by two years experience each for Jazmon Gwathmey and Tiffany Mitchell, three seasons for Erica Wheeler and Natalie Achonwa and six seasons for Shenise Johnson.
With such a youthful team, there’s bound to be some ups and down, a few challenges, some growing pains if you will. And the Fever are definitely experiencing some. They are still seeking their first win of the season. With Thursday’s loss to the Mystics, the Fever fell to 0-4 on the season, only the second time in team history that Indiana has started 0-4 and the first time since 2001.
Dupree alluded to the team’s experience level after the team’s third loss of the season earlier this week.
“The young players are doing well. They’re coming in and doing their jobs and giving us energy off the bench,” Dupree said when asked how the team is starting to mesh with the younger players. “Kelsey Mitchell had a hell of a game today (Tuesday).”
The team has been willing to try anything to create a spark – including inserting Kelsey Mitchell into the starting line-up for the first time. She promptly led the Fever with 25 points on 9-for-16 shooting and 5-for-11 from three-point range. Her 25 points was the most points scored by a Fever rookie since 2005.
A player like Kelsey Mitchell – who, as a rookie, has helped her team fight back from large deficits against veteran squads and seemingly has no fear shooting the ball, is definitely the future of the Fever franchise.
Coaching a Young Squad
When asked about her youthful team and some of the challenges it presents, Chatman was as candid as ever.
“I don’t think anything’s been a surprise. You talk about youth, I’m excited. They’re playing hard. It’s not that they’re not playing smart,” Chatman said. “They’re just having to learn so much information in a small amount of time. And the challenge is, the key – and we always tell them [this] – is to not take a step backwards. We want them to be comfortable doing what they came in the league being good at.
“When you talk about a Stephanie Muvunga…when she’s in the game, I need you to be a good rebounder, a good defender, and run the floor,” she continued. “Look at Victoria Vivians. When you’re in there, play good defense – you came from a program that had a high caliber defense – but also spot up and spread the floor.
“And Kelsey Mitchell is someone that plays with pace, someone that can create a shot for herself and for others. So, we want them to concentrate on doing those things that they’re most comfortable with while we integrate them into life at the next level.”
Chatman said she is not looking to push the pace this season with her young squad or keep it slower and more controlled. What they need to do will come in time.
“Sometimes pace is not all about youth. It’s about pieces that allow you to play at that pace,” Chatman explained. “You don’t want to play fast and it’s ugly. It’s one of those things where we have some pace with some people that can truly space the floor. I like the fact that some of the shots we’re getting are wide open shots.
“Now, don’t misunderstand me. There are no moral victories, but the challenge is to continue to get those shots and knock them down.”
What keeps Chatman encouraged is when she sees her young squad taking cues from the veterans.
“Yes, I see it. And even when I don’t see it, I’ll hear them talk about it,” Chatman said. “Maybe I’ll see it in an interview or something on social media. Often times, we don’t get to see that, you know. So, it’s nice to see and hear that feedback.”
Everyone has them. Kids. Newly married couples. College freshmen.
And WNBA teams like the Fever. But it’s encouraging to know they are working through those pains, one game at a time.