March 1, 2024 

With Caitlin Clark headed to the WNBA, the Indiana Fever are back

The Fever are coming for your wins, and they will be for a while

INDIANAPOLIS — Iowa Hawkeyes star Caitlin Clark announced on Thursday that she’s heading to the WNBA, and the Indiana Fever hold the first pick in the upcoming draft. To put the significance of this moment for the Fever franchise into perspective, a trip back to 2022 is required.

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It was July 5, and the Fever dropped a home game to the Seattle Storm 95-73. It was the fifth-straight loss for the Fever at the time, and it pulled their record down to 5-18.

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Sitting in the tunnels of Indiana Farmers Coliseum after the game, head coach Carlos Knox as well as Fever guards Danielle Robinson and Kelsey Mitchell fielded questions from reporters. The Fever usually don’t play in this arena, but their typical home in Gainbridge Fieldhouse was under construction, so they were temporarily relocated.

As the three answered inquiries, their sentences became less and less audible while their voices stayed at the same volume. Above the makeshift press conference room, which was covered by bleachers as the ceiling, a facility staff member was using a leaf blower of some kind. Presumably, they were cleaning up in some way, but it became increasingly difficult to hear what was going on in the half press room, half garage location.

Fittingly, as Mitchell fielded a question about her not being named a WNBA All-Star despite averaging over 19 points per game, the leaf blower user went right over the top of the press space. Mitchell’s answer was impossible to hear.

The Indiana Fever went on to lose their next 13 games, closing the 2022 campaign on an 18-game losing streak. It was painful for many involved. The roster was young and in flux, so veterans were frustrated. The coaching staff changed, and the front office leadership flipped in February of that year. At the time, the Fever were 17-73 across the last three seasons. The franchise made some important changes throughout that calendar year, but they were in a low spot.

That game against the Storm was just 19 months ago. It was Sue Bird’s final game in Indiana. The leaf blower drowned out the sounds of a Fever player who had just missed an important accolade, and it overshadowed a press conference of a team heading in the wrong direction.

This Thursday — a leap day — Caitlin Clark was hundreds of miles away from that arena when she shared that she’s going pro. She presumably knows she is going to be the first overall pick in the draft and will end up with the Indiana Fever. Clark was liking tweets from the official Fever Twitter account, and Indiana guard Erica Wheeler was sharing thoughts about the Iowa star, calling her the baby goat. The entire franchise is excited about the near certainty of landing Clark, and the collegiate star appears to be reciprocating those feelings.

The online reaction to Clark’s decision could not have been a bigger juxtaposition to that summer day in Indiana Farmers Coliseum. Robinson said the team didn’t have a lot of poise that night. Mitchell shared that the team was lacking energy without Queen Egbo available. Knox explained that the team wasn’t flowing. That group wouldn’t flow again. A leaf blower was the loudest voice in the building. Mitchell looked around while the noise grew louder, trying to figure out what was going on.

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Now, everyone knows what’s going on in Indiana. The Fever are coming for your wins, and they will be for a while.

Since that July of 2022 night, everything has changed. Only four players — Mitchell, Victoria Vivians, and two 2022 first round picks in Lexie Hull and NaLyssa Smith — still remain on the Fever roster. Knox was not retained, and he has since been replaced by the endlessly-passionate Christie Sides. General manager Lin Dunn had the interim tag removed from her job title. The leadership, and the holdover players, were put in the right places to succeed.

The renovations in Gainbridge Fieldhouse wrapped up, and the Fever regained their home arena last season. After one campaign in the WNBA bubble and two seasons elsewhere, Indiana finally had a permanent home again with excellent facilities (and those facilities played a role in luring Katie Lou Samuelson as a free agent signing). It was the first Fever season played exclusively in that building since 2019 — Mitchell’s second year in the WNBA.

Indiana Fever head coach Christie Sides walks onto the court to high-five her players after the final buzzer.
Indiana Fever head coach Christie Sides meets her team after a game against the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., on May 30, 2023. (Photo credit: Chris Poss | The Next)

Perhaps most importantly, the Indiana Fever won the 2023 WNBA Draft lottery. No, not the Clark lottery, the one before that. It handed them the first pick in the draft last year, where they landed All-Star center Aliyah Boston. She’s already a premier talent in the association and was named Rookie of the Year via a unanimous vote. Boston dominated several games and averaged 14.5 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, and she paired those numbers with terrific defense.

In that same draft, the Fever grabbed Grace Berger and Victaria Saxton, who both gave Indiana something last season. Their roster made far more sense than it did just one year prior, and it had more star power.

All of those changes came before the 2023 season — just six months after the leaf blower ruined what should have been a thoughtful, emotional address from Mitchell about how she leaned on her family after missing out on the All-Star game. The Indiana Fever had new life heading into the most recent 40-game slate.

They went 13-27 last season, still a poor record. Yet they more than doubled their win total from any of the previous three seasons, and they were in the playoff hunt until the final days of the campaign. If not for disastrous clutch play and an ill-timed injury to Smith, some within the organization believe the team would have been postseason bound.

With the benefit of hindsight, thank goodness they missed out on the playoffs. The experience would have been nice. The top odds in the 2024 WNBA Draft lottery proved to be far nicer. Indiana won the first overall pick that night.

They won Caitlin Clark.

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A leaf blower silenced Knox’s message about his team’s inability to compete for 40 minutes less than two years ago. Now, after years of being stuck in the WNBA’s basement and after their own arena made a mockery of them via a 70+ decibel tool, the Fever are about to explode into relevance. They are headed into the national spotlight.

Since that noisy day, Mitchell was named a 2023 All-Star, reaching the top of a mountain she had been climbing her whole career. Sides led the Indiana Fever from a rudderless young group to an up-tempo unit with a top-five offense. Boston has emerged as one of the best players in the WNBA and just turned 22.

Smith is a monster on the interior. Berger and Hull are developing backcourt pieces. Samuelson, Wheeler and Vivans are key veterans, and Kristy Wallace fills just about every gap. Dunn loves the progress of the organization and expects to beat top teams.

And now, that group can add Caitlin Clark in the mid-April WNBA Draft. They will be able to pair two of the best prospects in recent memory for several years. No more leaf blowers, no more instability in leadership, no more undirected rosters and no more of a likely-soon-ending eight-season playoff drought.

Here come Aliyah Boston, Kelsey Mitchell and NaLyssa Smith. Here come Caitlin Clark and the Indiana Fever.

Written by Tony East

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

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