May 5, 2023 

A short childhood driveway and dog-like play style will make Grace Berger a weapon for the Indiana Fever

'I feel like Walnut would be a good basketball player'

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Fever rookie Grace Berger doesn’t play like everyone else. In an era where layups, three pointers and free throws are encouraged, the Indiana Fever’s rookie guard is lethal in the midrange. She still can get to the rim or drop in a three when needed, but her work in unconventional areas is what made Berger a unique weapon at the collegiate level.

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Now, those skills are in the WNBA and the Fever are hoping to harness them. Berger mastered the midrange growing up in Louisville, and it was all thanks to where she practiced.

“I think I had a driveway that only went out to like 15 feet when I was younger. Lot of mid-range shots,” Berger told The Next when describing where she acquired her knack for the in-between game. She knocked down 49.3% of her 2-point shots in her final season with the Indiana Hoosiers. “I think it’s just a shot that’s hard to guard. I think it’s a shot that you can get off whenever you want.”

Berger was drafted by the Fever with the seventh overall pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft. The trek from Bloomington, where the Hoosiers play, to Indianapolis is short. Berger made the trip to Indy as a kid multiple times to watch the Fever play, and her new journey is an even shorter, but more emotional, drive away.

“It was definitely hard. It’s a place that I’ve learned to love,” Berger said of leaving IU. She singled out head coach Teri Moren (who was a visitor on Day 1 of Indiana Fever training camp), athletic director Scott Dolson and of course her teammates as people she will miss, but they are still close by. “Yeah, to be able to stay close to them, my second family, is something that makes this whole experience that much more special,” she said, noting that she is excited to drive down and visit some Hoosier practices.

Now, though, Berger is practicing with the Fever. She’s a few weeks in with her new team and is already showing how she can fit. Her outside shot looks crisp and her ball handling shines with a unit that is emphasizing transition opportunities. She isn’t shy about communication on the court, an emphasis for the new-look team. Her game, and versatility, slot in well.

It’s Berger’s tenacity that stands out, even just in a training camp setting. None of her skills are shy, she’ll go right at anybody or anything. The Indiana Fever want that.

So far, Berger has worked with the guards during shooting and movement drills. With Erica Wheeler, Destanni Henderson and Kelsey Mitchell frequently running the show, she has spent more time off the ball than on it, at least in the portions of practice that are visible to the media. But she does take the ball up the floor on occasion, and the Fever noted on draft night that they love her positional versatility.

“The good thing about me and my experience is I’ve played off the ball at Indiana, I played on the ball at Indiana,” Berger said. She is confident she will be able to do both at the pro level, which is great for a largely blank-slate Fever team.

Berger lets her game speak. She, of course, is talking on the court while learning new terminology. But her game is louder. She’s relentless, hunts for shots, and has that aforementioned tenacity.

In that way, she is a lot like her dog, Walnut. Walnut is the name of a busy street in Bloomington, but Berger says that’s just a coincidence. She just likes the name.

“I feel like Walnut would be a good basketball player. He’d be a good point guard. You wouldn’t want to go up against him on the defensive end,” Berger joked. During the Hoosiers’ 2022-23 season, Berger and teammate Sydney Parrish‘s dogs met, which was a significant moment.

“It was a huge deal,” Berger said. “Both small dogs, so both kinda have that small-dog syndrome. Very energetic. Kinda stubborn.”

Ironically, those traits could apply to Berger as a basketball player. She isn’t small, especially for her position, but she is energetic. She can run with anyone and keep up the energy on both ends of the floor. It’s impossible to count the number of times that energy has been singled out as a key component of Indiana Fever training camp.

She’s stubborn, too. Not in a bad way. In an “I don’t want to lose” way. That’s part of why the Hoosiers just wrapped up two tremendous seasons and why Mitchell shared that Berger is always prepared for the moment.

“When it comes down to trying to figure things out, I don’t have doubt that Grace Berger will not figure it out,” Mitchell said.

Berger will have to learn a lot this season. She is a rookie, after all, and she has already been described as a sponge. So far, Wheeler and Mitchell have been key veterans for Berger, and those two both having experience with new Fever head coach Christie Sides helps. As most rookies do, Berger will have to work hard to be a weapon.

But if her dog-like traits and past driveway grind suggest anything, it’s that she will work hard and be a useful tool for Indiana. Even in her rookie year, and with a first-year head coach, Berger is ready to grow as an individual and with the team.

“We’re both just excited to be here and get to work,” Berger said of Sides. “I’m just excited to be on this journey with her.”

The two mesh well in both personality and belief in each other. That will be needed in the new Indiana Fever environment, the place where Grace Berger will take off in the WNBA.

Written by Tony East

Indiana Fever reporter based in Indianapolis. Enjoy a good statistical-based argument.

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