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Catchings caught up in Fever’s transition

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Earlier this week, the lone 30-something on the Indiana Fever roster sat at a table answering questions during the team’s media day at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Her hair is now cropped short, a potential path to improved on-court aerodynamics. The muscular arms and shoulders are on full display because of the basketball uniform she is wearing.

Still a young woman of 34, Tamika Catchings without trying came off as older.

This isn’t a jab at the seven-time All-Star and five-time Defensive Player of the Year, arguably the greatest WNBA player in the league’s 18-year history and without question its most popular and admired.

It’s Catchings’ surroundings playing the role of culprit.

Players such as 6-foot-3 Florida State rookie forward Natasha Howard, third-year guard Sydney Carter and 6-1 swingplayer Marissa Coleman — Fever newcomers all — are standing around making small talk when not posing for pictures.

Other unfamiliar faces included 6-4 forward Lynetta Kizer and 6-4 rookie post Victoria Macauley.

Clearly not your elder sibling’s Indiana Fever.

No Katie. No Erin. No Dav (Jessica Davenport) or Bre (Jessica Breland).

Indiana for all its success is a franchise in transition, one that seems to turn back the clock a little bit more every day. Trading for rookie shooting guard Maggie Lucas out of Penn State a few hours after Monday’s media day wrapped up only made the Fever younger.

The proof is in the numbers.

Consider the non-Tamika part of Indiana’s 2014 roster more than doubles Catchings in total games played (942-428), yet falls short of the 2012 league MVP in career points — 7,162 to 6,290.

Head coach Lin Dunn has expressed a desire to keep Catchings’ minutes in the high-20s (she averages 32.6 minutes per game over her first 12 seasons) as a means of keeping the 6-1 forward strong both at the end of games and this season.

If successful, Dunn will have quietly laid the groundwork for the Fever to ride the talents of 5-10 guard Shavonte Zellous, Coleman, 6-1 Erlana Larkins and point guard Briann January into the near future.

Not that we should so much as contemplate gradually phasing Catchings out in our minds.

She recently hinted she would like to keep her body and game fine-tuned so that she’s able to play for the United States in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Already a three-time gold medalist for the red, white and blue, Catchings would be 16 days past her 37th birthday by the time the Games commence Aug. 5, 2016.

It can be done. Lisa Leslie was 37 in her final WNBA season (2009); four-time champion Sheryl Swoopes bowed out as a 40-year-old two years later. More recently, six-time All-Star Taj McWilliams-Franklin retired at age 41.

This indicates Catchings, who for the first time this winter didn’t play professional basketball overseas, would like to wear the No. 24 jersey for the Fever for at least two more seasons beyond this one.

Only then can it be raised to the fieldhouse rafters.

Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. Send comments to mbeas@dailyjournal.net.

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