The WNBA’s Biggest Wildcard

Why Indiana is one of the league’s most exciting teams. 

By Elisha Gunaratnam

While all eyes might be on the Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty to see how their superteams play out, one of the most interesting teams in the league this season might just be the Indiana Fever.

The Fever currently have eight players on their roster that are coming off their rookie seasons, and the team added five fresh faces to their lineup during the 2023 WNBA Draft. Their most experienced player, Erica Wheeler, has been in the league for seven years. For context, every other team in the WNBA has multiple players with more than eight years of experience, and several teams have players with over 10 years in the league. With a new coach at their helm and a roster full of young talent, the Fever are the WNBA’s biggest wildcard. 

Winning Mentality

It’s no secret that Indiana has had a challenging couple of years. The franchise hasn’t qualified for the playoffs since 2016, and despite their high picks in recent drafts, the Fever have not been able to put things together on the court. With superteams being formed in Las Vegas and New York, Atlanta and Dallas making big trades, and Phoenix and Minnesota having key players return to their rosters, it looks like Indiana is going to have another tough season. But the team seems unphased by the challenge. 

What’s different this year? Aside from having the No.1 pick (Aliyah Boston) for the first time in franchise history, the players have a different mentality about them: they’re hungry to win. Aliyah Boston, Victoria Saxton, and Destanni Henderson were teammates in South Carolina for years, and only lost a handful of games. Similarly, NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo were teammates on the Baylor Bears, where they were powerhouses in the Big 12 and in the NCAA Tournament. 

After dominating Athletes Unlimited Basketball during her first WNBA offseason, NaLyssa Smith is looking to bring her winning mentality to the Indiana Fever this year. Photo Credit: PSE/Matt Kryger

The Fever have six players on their roster who won national championships during their college careers, and they’re ready to make an impact.

After a few days of practice, Erica Wheeler said this about the team, “It’s looking good. The energy is great. The rookies are learning very fast and that’s a good thing. Everybody is just trying to get on the same page. Energy. [The rookies] have had high energy even when they’re tired. It was a tough day [Monday] and they had every moment to give up, and they didn’t. As a vet, to see the young ones fight through that tiredness…it makes me happy.”

Emma Cannon—who is gearing up for her second season with the Fever—echoed Wheeler’s statement: “All the young girls, they’re willing to learn, they want to work hard, they want to get in and get extra shots up and everything. Everybody wants to win, everybody is pouring in and that’s our team goal this year: Everybody pour in. So, it’s been really good.”

Excitement For the Season Ahead

When NCAA players are drafted into the WNBA, they are often juggling coursework, managing a move across the country, and adapting to the lifestyle of a professional athlete. It’s a lot for anyone, but this year’s rookie class seems to be embracing the challenge. During her introductory press conference, Grace Berger commented that “it was a super quick turnaround,” but also spoke about how excited she was for the season. 

The word “excited” is being thrown around a lot in Indiana. The rookies all used it during their introductory pressers, and the veterans on the team have spoken about their excitement for the 2023 season as well. Between traveling around the city to throw first pitches and appearing at draft parties after practice, there seems to be a real camaraderie among the team, with all of them locked in on making the most of the year they have ahead of them.

They’re not arrogant or foolish. Berger acknowledged that all of the rookies will have to adjust to “guarding the best athletes in the world.” What they do have, however, is confidence not just in themselves, but in the ability of their teammates. All of the Fever players have been singing each other’s praises whenever they are asked how the team is coming together. They’ve been locked in during practice, and are soaking up all of the knowledge they can from each other. 

Berger spoke about how players like Boston “make everyone around them better,” and how they’re all about the team. While it might be a few years until Indiana is making deep playoff runs, what they are doing now is exactly what Berger predicted: they’re making each other better. 

Fever fans can expect to see some big changes in their team over the next few weeks as coaches have to bring the roster down from 17 to 12 players (last year’s No. 4 pick Emily Engstler was already waived), but regardless of what happens, this squad is going to be one to watch. 
The Indiana Fever play their first preseason game on May 7 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Fans can watch the game on Facebook.

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