Tully Bevilaqua: Don’t Sleep on the Fever
Other teams may get the headlines, but the Fever may hold up the hardware.
by Stephen Litel / @stephenlitel
Throughout the off-season, many WNBA teams have been in the news. Of course the Phoenix Mercury won the title in what many believe is the best Finals in the league’s brief history. In January, the Connecticut Sun and Minnesota Lynx completed the Renee Montgomery/Lindsay Whalen trade, but were upstaged by last week’s trade involving Cappie Pondexter, Shameka Christon and Candice Dupree.
“I think it’s exciting for the league,” says Tully Bevilaqua of the Indiana Fever. “Obviously, New York picking up Cappie Pondexter was pretty huge. How it will affect the team that Phoenix had and the chemistry they had with Cappie in there will be interesting to see. Dupree is a great player in her own right, but a different player from Cappie, but I’m sure they’ll still be up there come Finals time. I think it’s a good time for the league with some of the changes that have happened.”
Bevilaqua’s Fever were the team that lost the epic WNBA Finals of 2009 and will essentially return the same team as last year, yet not many are talking about them. With a roster full of players such as Tamika Catchings, Katie Douglas, Ebony Hoffman, Briann January, Tammy Sutton-Brown and, of course, Bevilaqua, the Fever are poised for another fine season and, ever so quietly, another run at a championship.
“We’re not an ‘underdog,’ but we are under the radar because nobody is talking about us,” says Bevilaqua. “We’re kind of used to that because we’ve been in that situation the past few years, but we expect ourselves not to be an underdog. We know that we are championship material and we just fell short last year. When you’re not being talked about, it takes a little bit of pressure off of you. At the same time, we put that pressure right back on ourselves to live up to expectations.”
Coming into the 2010 season, the Fever still have their championship aspirations. After coming up just short last season, they took time to reflect on the few areas in which they could improve to push them over the hump this year. There aren’t many areas of improvement based on history and with a veteran team hungry for a championship, addressing those issues will be a focus heading into the year.
“We had our lapses, both offensively and defensively,” says Bevilaqua. “We are a very good defensive team, but we still had lapses. In regards to the Finals last year, one of our biggest weaknesses was the ability to stop Cappie Pondexter. It’s definitely not down to an individual to stop someone. It’s definitely a team-oriented thing and we have to find a way in championship rounds to do that.”
The WNBA Draft is only a heartbeat away. In the case of a team such as Indiana, who hold the 11th, 23rd and 35th picks, the player selected will probably not make a great impact this summer. Yet, it is a wonderful opportunity for a rookie to come in, sit behind veterans on a championship level team and learn.
“We’re fairly balanced in all positions, so I guess with the pick that we have–since it is late in the first round–you would have to go with the best player available at that time, even if it’s not exactly the player that we need. At least we can then utilize that player and then try to find a spot for that player on the roster or, if opportunity arises, there are trades up until a couple days before the season starts. In my mind, it’s just picking the best player left where we’re picking.”
Don’t think, however, that the Fever are upset that few are talking about them heading into the season. This team thrives under their own expectations and know that those truly in the know are not overlooking them. In the end, it’s about winning games and trying to help the league find a larger fanbase.
“If you look at the players that we have, everyone respects the players that make up our team. It could be that other teams have made moves, which have put the focus on them in the media. We haven’t, as of yet, come out with any moves or acquisitions, so we’re not a focal point to talk about right now. I think with the moves that have been made–and with Marion Jones coming into the league–it’s brought some excitement to the league and it’s good that’s what’s focused upon. Hopefully, we’ll draw more people to attend the games.”
So, keep focusing on other teams. Indiana wants you to do so. Keep paying attention to see if the Minnesota Lynx can go from the lottery to the playoffs, keep watching to see if Pondexter can turn around the Liberty, keep paying attention to how Katie Smith fits in with Washington and certainly pay attention to the Sparks without Lisa Leslie. While you’re doing that, the Fever will make their push and be a huge factor come playoff time. Right now, they are just focusing on preparing for the upcoming season. If the entire team is preparing as Bevilaqua is, they will be ready to go from Day One.
“I took the winter off again, which I did last year as well and, basically, have been back in training now for the past few weeks,” says Bevilaqua. “I’m feeling pretty good. My fitness is getting back up there, I’ve been doing some workouts on the court and, apart from the stiffness that you normally get from starting training again, everything else is fine. Right now I’m focused on getting myself fit and ready for the season. I don’t want to distract myself too much right now.”
Other teams may be in the news now, but don’t be surprised if the Fever are in the news at the end of the season…holding up the championship trophy.