June 21, 2023
Indiana Fever forward Victaria Saxton beat the odds to make the team
'She got better, she just improved her game from the start of training camp, that was really impressive to me,' Sides said of Saxton
The Indiana Fever have made 12 selections in the last two WNBA drafts. That’s a full rosters worth of players that have arrived in the Circle City via the draft, meaning it has been an uphill battle for many youngsters to make the Fever’s final roster in recent seasons.
That’s why few thought rookie forward Victaria Saxton would make the team’s final 12-player list this season. The South Carolina product was a third-round pick; Indiana took her 25th overall after selecting four other players in the first two rounds. Saxton was a longshot to make it past training camp the second she was chosen.
“It was in the back of my mind,” Saxton said of her chances to make the team in camp. “But I knew that everybody had to come in and work. Nothing is given, nothing is guaranteed. So I just knew that I had to go out there and give it my all.”
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Saxton would have to impress early and in the preseason if she wanted to make the team. She would have to beat out some second-round picks from this season (Taylor Mikesell and LaDazhia Williams), some established draftees from 2022 (Emily Engstler and Destanni Henderson), and other players with Fever experience to be among the final 12 this year.
She worked hard to stand out early. Since she knew rookie sensation Aliyah Boston well from their days together as Gamecocks, they battled hard in the post in practice sessions. Saxton defended Boston better than any other Fever player.
She also got noticeably better every day. In a drill one day where post players needed to make mid-range shots from certain zones, Saxton was the far better shooter than Williams and Queen Egbo.
“I watched her and Aliyah battle every single day, almost like they didn’t like each other. Which is completely false,” Indiana Fever new head coach Christie Sides said of Saxton in camp. She added that Saxton’s competitiveness stood out.
“She got better. She just improved her game from the start of training camp. That was really impressive to me,” Sides said.
Saxton showed enough in training camp to earn opportunities to play during the preseason, which was significant for her chances to prove herself. Getting minutes in game action would allow her to separate herself from other players trying to make Indiana’s roster.
The Fever wanted to see defense during the preseason. And they were hoping for players to shine as culture fits. Saxton did exactly that. Her work on the less glamorous end of the floor was impressive in the exhibitions, and she proved to fit in well with the family-style atmosphere that Sides is building.
“Victaria has been super positive… she’s all about the team. I think that’s spread throughout the team,” fellow rookie Grace Berger said of Saxton.
In her first preseason outing, Saxton had four points, one rebound, and one block against the Chicago Sky. In the second tune up, she finished with two rebounds against the Wings. Her minutes went as expected, though her shot was not falling despite largely being open looks.
There were still a few days before the final cuts, though. After the preseason, Saxton still had to wait to know if she would be on the Indiana Fever’s regular-season roster.
Her mind would race when she would get called in for a meeting with a coach or the front office. Was she about to be waived? Could this be the end? “That actually happened like the last day when they were cutting people,” Saxton said of being nervous after being called in for a meeting.
But that discussion with the front office was actually a happy one. Instead of being waived, the Fever let Saxton know she had made the roster for the regular season. She was officially sticking with the red and blue.
“I was super super excited because it’s rare for a third-rounder to make a team. So I just thought that was really big for me,” Saxton said. “And being the first girl out of Rome, Georgia, where I’m from, to make a professional basketball team was really huge for me.”
She instantly called her parents to let them know the news. She said that both her mom and dad were so excited for her that they didn’t know what to say.
The next call for Saxton was to Dawn Staley, her collegiate coach with South Carolina. Staley has set up dozens of players for the pros, and Saxton was the most recent. “You worked for this. Nothing is given,” Saxton remembers Staley telling her.
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Saxton’s defense shines on the court. That’s what got her on the court for brief stints in each of the Fever’s first two games, where she recorded one rebound. She is capable on offense, but her defense is stronger.
“She’s a workhorse. She gets in there and gives everything she has,” Fever forward Lexie Hull said of Saxton.
That’s part of why Saxton is challenged to make NaLyssa Smith better as a part of her daily duties. She often goes against the second-year forward in practice sessions and pushes Smith to improve. Sides likes to assign every player to a role, and one of Saxton’s roles is working hard to help Smith improve.
“Helping people get better, I think it helps me get better,” Saxton said. Smith, of course, appreciates the help. “I feel like V is a player that every time she’s in practice, she’s going hard. I feel like that’s going to help me in the long run,” the second-year forward shared.
The work with Smith and Boston are the visible parts, but many things make Saxton a great teammate. She is a solid culture fit with the growing Indiana Fever, even behind the scenes. Saxton works hard to improve every day and improve herself and her teammates.
That’s exactly what the Fever wanted and why she beat the odds to make Indiana’s final roster. “That number doesn’t define you,” Smith said of Saxton’s draft slot. The rookie forward is already proving that to be true.