Victoria Vivians is the Fever's missing piece

On confidence, feeding off her teammates and preparing for her big comeback

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UNCASVILLE, CONNECTICUT/USA - May 26, 2018: Indiana Fever guard Victoria Vivians (35) warms up before a WNBA basketball game between the Fever and the Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Chris Poss)

In some ways, it’s like Victoria Vivians never missed any time at all.

“I remember during [a recent] practice — really funny — she was dribbling up and down up the court, and she was smiling at the same time,” her Indiana Fever teammate Kennedy Burke shared over the weekend on a Zoom call with reporters. “And when she pulled up for the three, she was smiling and she made the shot. We were all like, ‘Oh, that was pretty impressive.’”

That’s just the kind of player Vivians is, according to her teammates. She exudes confidence through her playing, and even better, she just seems to know she’s as good as everyone says she is.

“I have great energy coming in — like, I never have like a day where I’m just bad,” Vivians said. “If I’m making shots, great. If I’m missing, I’m still shooting until I make them. So I feel like with the tone-setting, I don’t care if I miss shots, basically. So I guess I set the tone that way. I’m gonna keep shooting.”

The way her coaches and teammates are talking about her, hyping her up going into the 2020 season, it’s hard to believe her career was interrupted by injury for 11 months. But an ACL injury suffered in Israel last March stopped Vivians in her tracks.

“I wasn’t even focusing on basketball at that point,” she said. “I was focusing on my body, [getting] my knee back to the place it should be. The first six months was just mentally, physically and everything was about my knee.”

Vivians missed the entire 2019 WNBA season, the Fever tallied a third straight losing record and their shooting remained stagnant — fine, but not great. She lamented last summer that it was heartbreaking to get hurt overseas. The WNBA was her dream, she said — playing overseas wasn’t.

But her recovery went ideally, and as she raced past her post-surgery milestones, she even found time to get back on the court and participate in shooting drills. Her shot never went away, she said. Which was a good thing, as she anticipated a return to basketball in at least part of the 2019-20 overseas season.

In February, Vivians took the court for the same team that last saw her play nearly a year earlier, Maccabi Bnot Ashdod. She started all eight games in which she played — complete with 30.1 minutes in each — and her 13.9 points and seven rebounds per game contributed to the team’s eight-game winning streak to finish the season.

Though she said playing these games helped in terms of getting the feel of the game back, she felt her progress stalled again when COVID-19 struck and she had to return home.

Now, she’s facing the prospect of playing a larger role on the team she’s excited to be back with. This role — big minutes, big scoring — is what head coach Marianne Stanley expects in Vivians’ return to the Fever.

“She brings scoring ability from the perimeter that is really uncommon,” Stanley said. “She has deep range, she’s a terrific shooter, very consistent. Now she’s no longer a rookie, she’s in basically the second half of her sophomore campaign, and we’re looking for big things from Vivians.”

Vivians’ breakout senior season at Mississippi State, during which she averaged a team-high 19.8 points per game on 48.5% shooting — both career-bests by a wide margin — solidified her place as a first-round draft pick. In the 2018 national championship game, a crushing loss to Notre Dame, she had a game-high 21 points.

As a Fever rookie, Vivians only kept improving. She appeared in all 34 games, starting 26 of them, and averaged 8.9 points and 3.1 rebounds. Her 65 made 3-pointers were good for seventh all-time among rookies, and on the team that season, she trailed only fellow rookie Kelsey Mitchell (second all-time) in that metric.

That’s likely why Mitchell in particular felt the void left behind when Vivians missed the 2019 season.

“I know we always talk about how you miss somebody when they’re gone. Well, we missed her a lot because of her shot,” Mitchell said. “She’s confident in what she does, she’s confident in her ability to shoot the ball. So even though she can shoot, it will take some heat off other players. A lot of players get caught sleeping on the fact that she can shoot the ball. And then when she’s shooting so well, who knows, somebody else might get hot because she’s so hot.”

“Whether she knows it or not, she brings me confidence as well,” Vivians said of Mitchell. “She’s knocking down shots, I feel like I gotta knock down shots too. If she’s in a game and she’s knocking down shots, then I come in the game, I feel like I have to continue on what she was doing, so I have knock down shots. So I guess we kind of feed off each other.”

Another player who has a particular affinity for getting hot alongside Vivians is her former Mississippi State teammate Teaira McCowan, who she’ll rejoin on the bench this season with the Fever. During Vivians’ senior season — McCowan’s junior season — the pair led the team in scoring, field goal percentage and rebounds.

McCowan said last week that she “most definitely” thinks she can be one of the best centers in the league this season, that her teammates only make her stronger. Having a wing like Vivians who is a respected 3-point shooter will certainly help take some of the pressure off McCowan inside and allow her to achieve that goal.

“It’s great [to be reunited],” Vivians said. “We had a lot of history at State, and we’re trying to make a lot of history here at Indiana.”

As Indiana’s young core all appear to be on a similar upward trajectory, perhaps it doesn’t matter who the main anchor is, whether that’s Vivians or any number of players for whom she has that mutual respect. The point is having that support at all.

Last week, Fever general manager Tamika Catchings told the media that everyone on the team needs to play to their strengths and fit into the “puzzle” the team is putting together. That includes getting in touch with their own confidence so they can find the place they feel most comfortable on this team.

And when that confidence comes from each other on the floor — even better, in support of last season’s missing piece — all the better.

“I feel pretty good knowing that they have confidence in me because it gives me the confidence to play and support them as I shoot it,” Vivians said. “Just being back in general with them has been amazing, and so just them supporting me and pushing me adds to my confidence a lot.”