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Indiana Fever seek peak performance by playoffs

The Indiana Fever have a first-year head coach in Stephanie White and a 15-year league veteran in Tamika Catchings. Is that combination enough to compete for a WNBA championship?

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Indiana has two proven competitors in Stephanie White and Tamika Catchings. White is making her debut as a head coach this season and while it's her first-ever top spot at any level, it's a better move by the Fever than the WNBA's weird habit of recycling old NBA stars on the sidelines.

White won a national title at Purdue in 1999, played in the WNBA - as a teammate of Catchings - and was an assistant coach at Chicago and Indiana before becoming the head coach this season. She was on the bench with Lin Dunn, now retired, for the Fever's 2012 WNBA title.

Catchings is entering her 15th year in the WNBA and 14th on the court. The Fever selected her third in the 2001 draft despite her recovery from ACL surgery, and Catchings missed that season to rehab. (For those wondering, Lauren Jackson and Kelly Miller were drafted ahead of Catchings.) Since then, Catchings has become a perennial All-Star. She intends to play two more seasons and then retire after the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

"Tamika Catchings is the epitome of everything that is right in sports," White said. "She is the greatest competitor the game has seen. Her on-court numbers and accolades only tell part of the story. Tamika is an ambassador and mentor to our community with her generosity, her humility and her example.

"It doesn't do justice to say she is the face of the franchise; she is the heart and soul of the Indiana Fever and the foundation for our core values. I am so fortunate to have been a part of her journey as a teammate, and now as a coach."

White installed a new offense for the Fever, and early indicators are that it is an up-tempo version of read-and-react, based on White's preseason comments at

"My goal," White said, "is really to get good at reading one another and understanding one another's strength and weaknesses ... by the end of June. (Then) it's to be really good by the end of July, and hopefully be great at it leading into postseason."

A title this season seems unlikely as the players adapt. But White indicated the payoff could arrive.

"This year," White added to, "is about laying the foundation. I don't expect to be perfect this year. We're laying the foundation for the mentality it takes to play at that pace."

When college coaches change offenses, they recruit players to a system, no matter the sport. The Fever can make considerable use of players already on the roster, especially speedy guard Briann January, and hope for buy-ins from veterans like Erlana Larkins, Marissa Coleman and Lynetta Kizer.

Up-tempo often is preferred by players because the style can lead to easy offense - but they have to be committed to conditioning and sustaining the pace, while still getting back on defense. Opponents capable of slowing down the onslaught will force execution in the half-court.

The results may be mixed early for the Fever, but White should still guide Indiana into the playoffs. The stiffest competition in the Eastern Conference will come from the Chicago Sky and the Atlanta Dream.

Indiana also has Catchings, who, like the legendary Pat Summitt, can impose her will upon a team. White will have a team leader in her corner, and a Catchings-led team can never be counted out.