July 19, 2020 

Indiana Fever’s depth means rookies Allemand, Doyle can grow into roles

Without veteran Erica Wheeler, the two point guards are quickly learning a lot about themselves and their games as the WNBA season approaches

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There was no way a global pandemic could dampen Julie Allemand’s desire to play in the WNBA this season.

Especially not when she’d just watched her Belgian compatriots on the Washington Mystics win a title last fall.

“That season with DC, that was just unbelievable, and we were so happy and so proud of Emma [Meesseman] and Kim [Mestdagh],” Allemand said. “So now, as I’m a new player coming to the league, a Belgian player, they’re really excited about this. We can feel the support that maybe four years ago if a player went to the W, it wouldn’t be the same, but now, we can feel our whole country behind us.”

After being drafted 33rd overall by the Indiana Fever in 2016 — a time where the now-24-year-old acknowledged she was “too young” to make the impact she wanted — Allemand got another chance at the WNBA when the Fever signed her to a multi-year contract in March.

More than four months later, with the start of her first season less than a week away, Allemand appears to be in prime position to get big minutes early in her WNBA career.

Her experience surely helps. Despite not sticking in the league in 2016, Allemand has since played a handful more professional seasons, most recently with Lyon ASVEL Féminin in EuroLeague, and was on the Belgium national team that finished fourth at the 2018 FIBA World Cup and later qualified for its first Olympics.

“She’s still relatively young, but she has a tremendous body of work under her belt that will be invaluable to us as a team,” Fever head coach Marianne Stanley said. “That body of work that she’s got, that experience that she’s got, lends itself well to this situation, because you would look at us and think that she and the group that she was with had been playing together for a long time. That’s somebody who understands how to play the game. And that’s somebody who trusts and relies on their experience to guide them into new circumstances.”

Between Indianapolis and Bradenton, Fla., Allemand underwent an extended quarantine of more than three weeks after arriving from Belgium. Stanley said she was especially impressed by Allemand’s ability to stay professional and stay focused during that period.

With veteran point guard Erica Wheeler (along with third overall 2020 draft pick Lauren Cox) still undergoing medical protocol and not on-site in Bradenton, the Fever’s offense — for now — is in the hands of Allemand and Kathleen Doyle, the team’s 14th overall 2020 pick.

Not having their go-to point guard isn’t an ideal situation for a team that’s already young, but Stanley still sees it as a productive one, as the coaching staff now has more time to prepare Allemand and Doyle for the season. Beyond that, the rookie pair are in contact with Wheeler, going over the playbook and preparing for the season together.

This communication between players, albeit long-distance for now, upholds Stanley’s stated goal that it’s not just youth that’s a focal point of the 2020 Fever, but growth. Optimism is high that Allemand and Doyle be able to both soak up knowledge from Wheeler and be well-suited to strike out on their own paths.

“I think the youth that we have will really play a positive role, and the versatility that we have will be something that for Kathleen, Julie, Lauren [Cox], they don’t have to worry about coming in and being a dominant player,” Fever general manager Tamika Catchings said. “They just need to come in and learn from the vet for a little bit and then get into their own groove.”

Despite Doyle’s lack of experience compared to Allemand — though she did have a turn representing the United States at the Pan American Games last summer — her specific experience coming out of Iowa makes her well-suited to step onto the court for Stanley in her first season with the team.

“I know that Coach Stanley wants to play a fast-paced tempo, so that works in favor of me and my game and what we did at Iowa. We like to get the ball up and down the court,” Doyle said the day after the draft. “That’s something that’ll be similar and I have experience doing, so I’m looking forward to that.”

Thanks to the Fever’s depth at every position, Stanley sees this season as an ideal experience for Doyle — that she “couldn’t be in a better position in terms of learning from two different [professional] veterans,” referring to Wheeler and Allemand.

Still, Doyle not getting as many minutes as Allemand doesn’t mean the chance for a sharp upward trajectory isn’t there. In fact, Fever assistant coach Steve Smith offered a current WNBA comparison to Doyle, wrapped in a strong compliment.

“We just feel like her potential is limitless,” he said. “I compare her to a player that I saw come in years ago as a rookie that has the same type of grit and fire, and that was Courtney Vandersloot. And so if Kathleen does what she’s supposed to do, I think her potential is like that. I really think that she can make it there.”

With practices in full swing and both rookies on full display, not having Wheeler around is certainly a detriment as far as missing her talent and leadership. But if there’s anything the Fever have proven already, it’s that they can persevere when faced with unanticipated obstacles — even the rookies.

No matter the gap in experience, even between Allemand and Doyle compared to 2019 All-Star MVP Wheeler, the championship mentality persists.

“We surely miss Erica Wheeler, no doubt, but without her, both Allemand and Doyle acquitted themselves extremely well in practice, because you wouldn’t know that they hadn’t played with their teammates before,” Stanley said. “They both understand how to lead a team.”

This leadership has played out in the form of both friendly competition on the court and a drive to work together to find success for the team.

“Julie and I both have taken it upon ourselves to do our best to run our teams and learn as we go and be confident in ourselves, but also learn from every mistake we made,” Doyle said. “You definitely want to try to assert yourself.”

Their varying levels of experience aside, the fact remains that this is both Allemand’s and Doyle’s first season in an ultra-competitive league. While they recognize the challenges they’ll face, they’re also both confident and excited about the opportunity.

“I knew that the WNBA is the best league, so I knew that I still got to work,” Allemand said. “And yeah, I’ve been playing overseas, I’ve been playing with the national team. So I got some experience. And I think that now it’s time to come and to see what I can do.”

For Doyle, the transition came with a side of personal pride in her lifelong basketball philosophy.

“When I got to training camp, playing against these older players, it’s physical and it’s fast, so you’ve gotta be on your ‘A’ game at all times,” Doyle said. “But that’s what makes it fun, and being put in those competitive situations is what I live for.”

Stanley said she won’t use the Fever’s youth as an excuse for anything, and that she’s confident enough in her expectation of growth from game to game that being a younger team won’t matter.

Anyway, she said, that’s just what championship teams do.

Because even during a pandemic and all the complexities that entails, the goal of winning it all is in plain sight, for veterans and rookies alike.

“I think I would regret if I didn’t come this season, even if it’s a weird season,” Allemand said. “But I don’t care. I just want to play, and I’m so excited to be here and to get started.”

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