Women’s professional basketball in Indiana after 15 seasons stands at a crucial crossroads.
To the left is the past, a glorious collection of homegrown stars (Stephanie White, Katie Douglas), colorful Southern twangs (Lin Dunn), 11 tours of postseason experience and the smiling face of not only the franchise but entire WNBA (Tamika Catchings).
To the right is something strongly resembling uncertainty.
White is now coaching the Indiana Fever, Catchings turns 36 in July, and 11 of the 17 players on the team’s current preseason roster were born in the 1990s.
Where it seems only yesterday Indy was home to a WNBA champion (2012), it’s now a product coming off two consecutive losing seasons. Also, the wear and tear on Catchings after so many years playing here and abroad means White must monitor the 6-foot forward’s minutes.
Catchings as a rookie in 2002 was on the court a career-high average of 36.5 minutes per game; last season those numbers dropped to 26.8 minutes in the 16 (of 32) regular-season games she did play in.
Witnessing a nine-time WNBA All-Star and five-time Defensive Player of the Year on the bench in street clothes isn’t what excites people about making the drive to Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
No Steph, no Katie and ’Meek at this juncture is somewhat hit and miss. This set of circumstances would make life challenging for even the most finely tuned public relations department.
But it’s the Indiana Fever. Turn the page, keep your dribble and make the playoffs.
Hopefully for the foreseeable future and beyond.
As father to a daughter in high school and another in elementary school, I feel it’s imperative for this state to somehow keep positive adult female role models in the public eye.
What Catchings, Douglas and others have done in terms of positive PR working with charities, children and simply by conducting themselves professionally on and off the court over the years can never fully be repaid. They were and in some cases continue to be the brand, but the brand will soon change.
Maybe it’s Bri January in her customary point guard way who takes the torch and runs with it. Other possibilities include charismatic guard/forward combination of Shavonte Zellous and Erlana Larkins, as well as Natasha Howard, Lynetta Kizer and Shenise Johnson.
Or perhaps it’s a collective effort.
Whatever the case, the franchise has proved winning on the court with good, caring human beings remains a difficult combination to defeat.
Catchings said she will retire following the 2016 WNBA season, though if Fever officials had their way she would be occupying the low block and penning autographs after games well into her 50s. She’s that important.
Hopefully, her eventual departure doesn’t signal the beginning of the end of the Indiana Fever. That might be selling the local fan base short.
Consider that over the past six seasons (2009-2014) the Fever have ranked sixth in home attendance on five occasions and were fourth in 2013, the high and low points separated only by 683 spectators.
Here’s hoping such a trend prevails. Better yet, maybe it improves.