Behind the right ear of Erlana Larkins is a small tattoo of hands pressed together in prayer.
Next to it is ink replicating the famous Tar Heel foot, which is Larkins’ silent, yet very sincere, tribute to the University of North Carolina, her alma mater.
“I love my school. It was a great experience being there for four years,” said the 6-foot-1 Larkins, a starting forward for the Indiana Fever. “Being there and playing basketball just taught me a lot about life.”
The connection to Chapel Hill is important to remember with Indiana playing host to Connecticut tonight at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. After all, this represents the first time since college Larkins has gone into a season as a full-time starter.
The Florida native admits to favoring being a bench player, a role she readily embraced and excelled at during the franchise’s memorable 2012 season.
But with veteran post Tammy Sutton-Brown no longer with the team and 6-5 Jessica Davenport out indefinitely with a stress fracture to her right tibia, Larkins helps comprise the team’s interior presence along with seven-time WNBA All-Star forward Tamika Catchings.
Larkins is averaging six points and a team-high 9.3 rebounds in the Fever’s 1-3 start. Her best all-around game to this point has been the 10 points and 10 boards in an 86-77 loss to Atlanta in the May 31 home-opener.
She corralled nine rebounds in Saturday’s home loss to Phoenix, though most notable is that she managed to play 28 minutes without attempting a single field goal.
“I was very disappointed we didn’t get her touches in the paint in that Phoenix game,” Indiana coach Lin Dunn said, noting that Brittany Griner, the Mercury’s heralded 6-8 rookie center, didn’t even play because of a strained left knee.
“In the paint (Larkins) is the one we want to post up. We have to get her the ball down there.”
Taken with the 14th overall pick by New York in the 2008 WNBA Draft, Larkins’ career trail has veered a multitude of directions. She was waived by the Liberty prior to the 2010 season and by Phoenix before the start of the 2011 WNBA season before finding a home in Indiana.
Signed to a training camp contract after two seasons out of the league, Larkins averaged 4.1 points and 4.4 boards during the regular season. Her two starts at the end of the regular season after being a bench player in Indiana’s first 32 games lit the fuse of what was to come.
Larkins’ averages in the Fever’s 10 playoff games were as follows: nine starts, 9.9 points, 10.9 rebounds and 1.2 assists. Her 109 boards are the franchise postseason standard, having led Indiana in rebounds in five of the games; on three different occasions Larkins scored a career playoff high of 16 points.
The task now is pooling last season’s postseason brilliance to become a consistent force for a team that can’t catch a break health-wise.
Not only is Davenport sidelined, so are gutty guard Erin Phillips (lateral meniscus tear in her right knee) and swing player Jeanette Pohlen (torn ACL). Veteran guard/forward Katie Douglas already has missed two games with a bulging disc in her lower back.
“It’s been a challenge so far. It’s different,” Larkins said. “I miss Tammy out here being vocal, and JD has been here for four years. I’m here trying to learn, and I’m listening to ‘Catch’ as much as possible. She’s vocal, but she’s a demonstrative leader. She just goes out there and shows you what you need to do.”
The hope is that direction from Tamika Catchings is required less and less as the 2013 season progresses.
Larkins hopes this most of all.