Despite the late start, Indiana Fever adjusting well to Florida 'bubble'

Fever begin training camp Wednesday after "speed bump" caused travel delay

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Indiana Fever guard Tiffany Mitchell (3) shoots during the WNBA game between the Indiana Fever and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on May 28, 2019. (Chris Poss)

Despite arriving in the WNBA “bubble” five days after every other team, the Indiana Fever are optimistic about their prospects heading into their first official practice.

In a Zoom call with the media on Wednesday, head coach Marianne Stanley, Candice Dupree and Tiffany Mitchell spoke on the transition period, the living conditions at Bradenton, Fla.’s IMG Academy and team chemistry.

“We had a little speed bump, and everybody’s adjusting fine,” Stanley said. “To me, you just plow forward and do what you can do. You can only control what you can control and that’s what we’ve been doing. Everybody’s responded really well.”

The Fever’s departure from Indiana, which was expected to occur last Monday, was delayed because two players tested positive for COVID-19. Erica Wheeler and Lauren Cox have yet to join the team in Florida as they undergo medical protocol, but Stanley said both are eager to arrive and that she expects the full roster to make the trip.

Dupree echoed Stanley’s overall sentiment about the setback and what it meant for the team.

“It was tough to hear that we had to wait another five days to a week before we could actually enter the bubble, but we’re here, and I think we’re all ready to get going,” she said.

While the Fever waited until it was safe to travel, some players from the other 11 teams that arrived in Florida last Monday shared stories about the substandard conditions they were dealing with at IMG Academy. While most players league-wide appeared to have had a positive transition, others described their experiences with low-quality food, bedbugs and seeing mousetraps.

Mitchell did her best to keep things in perspective as she awaited her chance to see things for herself. So far, she’s satisfied with her experience.

“We got here and it was the complete opposite [of those stories], honestly,” Mitchell said. “Our housing is really nice. There’s housing that’s not as nice, but I can’t speak on that because that’s my personal experience, and everybody had their own personal experience. So going into it, I just came in with an open mind and tried to hope for the best, prepare for the worst type thing, but thankfully, we have a nice situation.”

From keeping in touch from a variety of distances to now having (almost) the entire team in one place, the various communication methods the team has employed have presented some unique approaches to team bonding.

“One thing that they did implement was Zoom calls every week to touch base with everybody and just make sure everybody was doing okay, make sure everybody was working out, any questions or concerns moving forward,” Dupree said.

Now, in Florida, Stanley is excited about the type of close-knit culture that can evolve from the team being around each other in both formal and more relaxed settings.

“I think it lends itself to [building] strong relationships,” she said. “Our players have been terrific. I can’t commend them enough for all that they’ve done to try to do what we can during this time leading up to actually coming to Bradenton and starting practice.

“Finally being around each other for a significant amount of time really helps with building the kind of championship culture that we want to build.”

Indiana officially begins training camp on Wednesday in preparation for the season’s start on Saturday, July 25. In a season that already looks to be jam-packed with on-court storylines and social justice actions alike, the Fever’s first game sets that tone right away, as they’ll take on the defending-champion Washington Mystics — where Stanley was most recently an assistant coach.

“It’s exciting. I told our team that you only get to be a champion if you play the champions,” Stanley said. “The path through for our growth and to the playoff rounds and the championship rounds is to play teams like Washington, so we’ll get our first taste on the first game.”

Stanley added that Fever rookie Julie Allemand will also get to face off against her Belgian teammate Emma Meesseman in that opening game, adding another layer of excitement to both teams’ opening day.

“Washington should be a good game for us,” Dupree said. “Obviously, they’re missing some key pieces right now, but they still have some really good players that are currently here on the roster. So I think it will be a pretty good gauge to see where we’re sitting right now as a team.”

Going into games, both Dupree and Mitchell expressed excitement at the opportunity to play for Stanley — despite the Fever being a young and relatively inexperienced team, but because of it.

“I’m just excited to see what knowledge she brings to this team,” Dupree said, adding that she had been on the phone with Stanley to discuss the up-tempo, high-energy system the team will run this season. “I think she’ll do really well with a younger group of players.”

As a four-year veteran, Mitchell acknowledged that her position as both a younger player and one of the most experienced on the team puts her in an intriguing position when it comes to Stanley’s presence.

“I’m excited to learn from her,” she said. “She’s really experienced … I’m still willing to learn and I’m just really excited to get on the court and pick her brain.”

As things start to come together on the court for the Fever this week, fans won’t have to wait long for some off-court access, too — Dupree said she and Natalie Achonwa have discussed creating both social justice-focused content and more fun behind-the-scenes content.

The 2020 WNBA season tips off with a July 25 tripleheader, with the Fever taking on the Mystics in the final game at 5 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network.