April 25, 2022
Indiana Fever rookies have unique opportunity to grow together
Fever selected seven players in the 2022 WNBA Draft
INDIANAPOLIS — Nine. That’s the number of rookies that entered day one of training camp for the Indiana Fever, a growing team ready to improve. With several other players finishing up with their teams overseas when camp opened in Indianapolis, more than two-thirds of the Fever’s camp participants on day one were rookies. The team has been full of youth through its first week.
“It’s real different,” head coach Marianne Stanley said of having so many first-year players in training camp. The Fever are holding camp at The Factory, a basketball training facility located on the West Side of Indianapolis. “We have a group that’s really attentive, it’s smart, they have good basketball IQ, and are skilled.”
Those rookies all have a chance to make a name for themself and fight for a roster spot in camp. That’s beneficial for any young player. But they also have an opportunity to grow as professionals and human beings in a more growth-centric environment thanks to the numbers of young players with them in Indiana, and that will help everyone both this season and beyond.
It’s not something that many pros get to go through. Last year, the rebuilding Fever had a rookie-heavy camp with eight first-year pros. In 2018, just after the team drafted current franchise centerpiece Kelsey Mitchell, the team had just four rookies in camp. Nine is an extraordinary number of first-year players, and all of them benefit from being in a youth-heavy group.
“I’m super excited about it,” guard Lexie Hull, the sixth overall pick in the 2022 WNBA Draft, shared of joining a team with so many other rookies. “I think it definitely will be helpful. I think the Fever is in a rebuilding stage and I’m excited to be at the ground floor of that with six other people [draft picks] and see where we can take the program.”
For a rebuilding team that has a stated goal of improving this year, having a large rookie class that includes four first-round picks may make improvement look clunky in year one. But long-term, having so many youngsters all together will pay dividends for the team in the Circle City. They can all gain knowledge and skill together, and at a similar pace.
That was on display near the end of an Indiana Fever practice earlier in camp. During a huddle, Indiana’s coaching staff was providing guidance for the team, and one coach noted that it was crucial for players to stop and ask questions if they aren’t understanding something or they need more coaching. Advice like that is what a team like the Fever needs.
“It’s been good for us, honestly, because the questions you don’t ask, someone else is going to ask,” second overall pick NaLyssa Smith shared. “We’re all kind of new to this, it’s our first time being in the pros. Going through this together has helped us a lot.”
That mindset extends beyond rookies, which is advantageous for the whole team. “I don’t know stuff now. So we’re all in the same boat,” Mitchell joked. She shared that camp has been more about learning and details with so many new players participating.
Those details were visible in the portion of practice that media members were able to observe. The Fever were scrimmaging, and then the game stopped. The coaching staff shared a note about a better way to receive a pass from a teammate. Then the play resumed. Not much later, another pause — this time, the teaching was about how to set better screens without moving. These moments are crucial for any team looking to improve, but they are doubly important, if not moreso, for a Fever team developing several rookies.
After practice, the development continued. Tenth overall pick Queen Egbo went to the far end of the gym to work on her game with assistant coach Vicki Hall while other first-year players went to the weight room. Training camp in Indiana has tremendous conditions for progress and growth.
“I feel like we’re all in the same position,” Egbo shared of playing with so many other rookies. “We all know that we got each other’s backs. We know that we’re in this together.”
Smith said the environment in camp has been excellent, and the fact that several rookies are able to grow together and learn the game at the same speed has been a factor in that. From a team-building perspective, these practices are valuable.
Even more value will come from the Fever’s youth-infused situation in the form of relationship development. Moving to a new city where everyone is a stranger can be difficult, and living in a hotel during training camp isn’t enjoyable. But the Indiana youngsters all have each other to lean on and grow within a new home, and that will make the transition into the WNBA much easier for all of them.
“I think we’ll all become friends pretty quickly,” fourth-overall pick Emily Engstler said. Engstler remembers playing with a few other Indiana Fever rookies in the McDonald’s All American Game in 2018 (Destanni Henderson, Smith, and Egbo were all participants) but doesn’t have a relationship with any other rookies beyond that exhibition. Growing with them as teammates in the WNBA and as friends off the court will help with development.
“Connection is the biggest part of winning games,” Engstler detailed. “You can be the most skilled player in the world, but working hard and connecting with your teammates is what matters most.”
Hull agreed. “I think every aspect of our lives will change and we’ll be able to grow in every way,” she explained.
The Fever are uniquely positioned to grow with several rookies. They were the first team in WNBA history to make four selections in the first round of the draft. They have nearly double-digit first-year players in training camp. The average age of the squad is under 25. For a rebuilding team, they are set up well.
And the rookies are in a wonderful position to grow, both on the court and off of it. “For us, it’s all about supporting them no matter what,” Mitchell explained of the job Fever veterans have to do for the rookies.
The Fever are hoping this rookie class can take the team out of the WNBA basement and into the postseason at some point as they grow together. That maturation and improvement started this week and will continue for years to come.