May 24, 2024 

It didn’t take long for Temi Fagbenle to find her fit in Indiana

Indiana Fever center Temi Fagbenle has been terrific to start the 2024 WNBA season both on and off the court

INDIANAPOLIS — It’s the first practice of 2024 for the Indiana Fever, and as they are working through drills with their mixed and matched units, the white team — as they were that day — was full of energy. They sped down the floor for a transition basket, then as the group came back and got a defensive stop, someone let out a roar of celebration on the hardwood.

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The emphatic celebration came from Temi Fagbenle, a veteran frontcourt player who is new to the Fever. Fegbenle was with the Minnesota Lynx from 2017-19 but spent the last four seasons away from the WNBA, only returning this year. Indiana acquired her player rights in a 2021 trade with the Lynx centered around Minnesota dumping salary.

Now in the Circle City, Fagbenle is a veteran — she is the team’s second-oldest player — and she played a key part in the defensive stop that led to her emotive moment. It was just one moment in one practice, but it showed why the Fever value Fagbenle and have found success with her on the floor early in the 2024 WNBA season.

“We’re lucky to have Temi here,” Fever coach Christie Sides said. “She’s been everything for us in the locker room, her veteran leadership.”

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Fagbenle held steady roles during her last two seasons with the Lynx, but it wasn’t clear exactly what her spot would be on a team with Aliyah Boston, NaLyssa Smith, Damiris Dantas, and other frontcourt pieces. As the campaign has progressed, the USC product is leaving no doubts about where her spot on the team should be going forward. She should play, and often.

Indiana wants to run and be active on defense. That’s all easier with Fagbenle in the game. Per pbpstats, the Fever’s net rating with Fagbenle on the court is far better, over 36 points per 100 possessions, than when she has been on the bench. So far, with the veteran center on the court, the team’s pace has been faster. Beyond individual production, the standout traits Fagbenle provides are all about Indiana’s identity. They’ve looked far more comfortable playing the way they want to when she is on the hardwood.

“I try to give energy every day, every practice,” Fagbenle said earlier this season. Before she continued talking, guard Kelsey Mitchell chimed in. “She does!”

Her own stats are also informative. Through five games, Fagbenle is averaging 7.4 points and 4.8 rebounds per game for the Indiana Fever. Both of those numbers are career highs, and her per-minute production is also at career-best levels. Fagbenle is shooting 59.3% from the field, her best mark ever, and that includes a tough second game of the season in which she went 2-for-6 with a few missed layups. The veteran is 14-for-21 otherwise.

Defensively, she is blocking one shot and nabbing one steal per game. Fagbenle is a difference maker that Indiana has needed early in this season — with one exception, her minutes have climbed from game to game every single game this season.

“Everyone has welcomed me. The returners have welcomed me. We’re all just trying to figure it out, we all have a goal at the end of the day,” Fagbenle shared. She noted that she is more comfortable in her own skin now, and more assured about her abilities.

Indiana Fever Temi Fagbenle
Indiana Fever center Temi Fagbenle (14) drives to the basket as Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas (25) defends during the WNBA game between the Indiana Fever and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on May 14, 2024. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

This is the type of player that the Indiana Fever need — someone who gives energy, shares veteran advice, and produces. As a younger team still searching for consistent success, players like Fagbenle are vital. They are good examples and key providers of advice.

For example, after struggling in her second outing and not having the start to the season Fagbenle hoped for, she came out with a different mentality ahead of the Fever’s fourth game. “I had a focus pre-game. I went out to do it, and I did it.” she described. It all came from within, and she wanted to have a stronger impact coming off the bench. Mitchell and Caitlin Clark nodded along as she explained her changed attitude, and Fagbenle noted that she contacted Alysha Clark about how to have a bigger impact as a reserve.

Fagbenle was excellent that night, posting a double-double — the first of her career — with 11 points and 10 rebounds that night. Indiana nearly took down the Connecticut Sun as a result, and Fagbenle proved that night she should be in the playing rotation every night for the Fever. She is too impactful and adds too much value to not be a mainstay in the rotation.

“She’s like a deer. She can get out and run in transition defense and offense,” Sides said. “She can go get rebounds… she brings a different dynamic.”

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All of those skills and abilities are matched by leadership. Fabgenle has played in many settings now — her basketball career has taken her all over the world. She is qualified to lead and has routinely been important for Indiana from a morale perspective.

It helps that she’s playing well and leading by example. By all accounts, that has extended to the locker room. “Temi’s leadership is really good,” Clark said. “She’s just somebody that’s so vocal, and she gives 110% every minute she’s on the floor.”

In an Indiana Fever season that has yet to produce a win, Temi Fagbenle has been a bright spot. She stands out with her poise, speed, and overall skill on a young team, and her successes of late have given the Fever two chances to win a tight game. The group is improving as Fagbenle gets more comfortable.

In just five games, Fagbenle has already played more minutes than she did during her rookie campaign. Her value to Indiana’s team is immense already, and as the young Fever learn how to win, Temi Fagbenle is providing them an example.

Written by Tony East

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

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