KRAVITZ: She’s not the new Tamika, but she’s Candice Dupree, and that’s more than good enough

Candice Dupree, then with Phoenix, drives around Minnesota Lynx's Rebekkah Brunson in the first quarter of a WNBA playoff semi-finals basketball game Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
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Bob Kravitz

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - You don’t replace the irreplaceable. That’s something Andrew Luck knew intuitively when he stepped into Peyton Manning’s over-sized shoes. That’s something Candice Dupree is learning as she accepts the mantle as the Fever’s top player (along with Briann January) after the retirement of Tamika Catchings.

“I don’t think she (Dupree) looks at it that way,’’ said Fever first-year coach Pokey Chatman. “That’s part of why getting her (in a trade with Phoenix) was so key, because when you talk to her, she’s a military kid, keeps it short and sweet and direct and doesn’t mince words. She’s really comfortable in her own skin and how she plays the game and how she affects people. She won’t be boisterous, but she’ll be effective.’’

Dupree, a 12th-year player who has had a terrific career while playing for Chicago, Phoenix and now Indiana, smiled when asked about Catchings. She knows she’s going to be asked about Catchings. Over and over again, like it or not. If she doubts it, just ask Andrew Luck, who spent most of his rookie year answering questions about Peyton Manning.

“I’m not coming in looking to replace anybody or becoming the face of the franchise,’’ Dupree said evenly. “I’m just playing my game and trying to help our team win.’’

Said Chatman: “It would be totally unfair to task someone with having to replace Tamika Catchings. We didn’t even have to talk about it with her. She’s very cerebral as a person and a player.’’

Don’t ever underestimate the impact Catchings had, both on this franchise and on this city. All Catchings did was put the Fever on the local and national map, make them a consistent playoff team and ultimately a WNBA champion. She was the team’s best player and one of the league’s best players for years and years, forever putting a happy, genuine face on a franchise and a sport that is still growing and looking for a bigger place on the national landscape.

It would not be a stretch to say that outside of Manning – or maybe, along with Manning – Catchings has done more to impact the community with her generosity, personality and outreach than any other athlete who’s ever come through Indianapolis. She was the smiling face of the franchise, a player and a personality who cannot be readily replaced.

Dupree, though, said she’s not going to be chased by Catchings’ ghost. She’s just going to play, something she’s done exceedingly well throughout her long WNBA career. stats

During Media Day, someone asked Dupree to describe her game.

“I think I’m a versatile player,’’ she said. Then she laughed. “I’ve been around 12 years; I’d be surprised if fans don’t know who I am. I must not be doing a very good job.’’

After that aside, she said, “I feel like I’m pretty composed. Some might think I’m a little bit boring because I’m pretty fundamentally sound, not flashy, but I get the job done.’’

I mentioned another fundamentally sound, boring player. Guy named Tim Duncan. Going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

“There you go,’’ she said. “There you go.’’

Perhaps the best way to describe Dupree’s game, besides effective, is understated. She will not have you jumping out of your seat. But she will help the Fever win, just the way the Fever have always won, year after year after year.

“I remember when I coached her (Dupree) in Russia (Spartak), I’d get so frustrated with her, then I’d look at the stat sheet and she’d have 19 and 11,’’ Chatman said. “But you didn’t feel it. They’d be like `Chill out, Coach, she’s got 19 and 11.’ Oops, `sorry.’ ‘’

Dupree envisions having a somewhat different role in Indiana. In Phoenix, which was her last stop, she played beside megastars Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner, two big scorers. Her role was somewhat more complementary with that team. Not so this year.

“Playing in Phoenix was great, but you’re playing beside those two (Taurasi and Griner) and you’ve got to take a back seat to them,’’ Dupree said. “I don’t know that I’ll have to do that here. Here, I’ll have more of a scoring role, so I’m looking forward to that.’’

There’s another notable new face with the Fever, and that’s Chatman, who replaced Stephanie White after White accepted the Vanderbilt job.

“Going after Pokey was a no brainer for me,’’ general manager Kelli Krauskopf said.

Chatman was an All American player at LSU, ascended from assistant coach to head coach at her alma mater and took the Tigers to three consecutive Final Fours. But after the 2007, Chatman was forced to resign after allegations arose that she had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a former player.

Undaunted, she moved on to Russia’s Spartak team, where she worked, both as an assistant and as a head coach, for three years. She also coached the Slovakian national team.

The last six years, she was the general manager and coach of the Chicago Sky, a team forever looking to upend the Fever. Unsuccessfully, in large measure.

What’s to know about Chatman? Well, first, her given birth name is Dana, but as a self-described “chubby little kid,’’ everybody called her Pokey, to the point where she confused Uncle Sam on her taxes by calling herself Pokey rather than Dana. She has since legally changed her name to Pokey.

She’s also a motorcycle riding enthusiast, having rolled around town (when it hasn’t been pouring rain) on her Harley Davidson Street Glide.

“I’ve never been on her motorcycle,’’ said Dupree, who previously played for Chatman at the World University Games in Turkey and in Russia. “If I did, though, I’d want a sidecar. You know, put on goggles and just chill.’’

Chatman jumped at the opportunity to join the Fever after her time passed in Chicago. She had heard so many good things about Pacers Sports and Entertainment from former Pacers assistant Brian Shaw, who told her the organization would “ruin her’’ after she saw the first-class way things were done in Indianapolis.

Even while Krauskopf was trying to sell Chatman on the job, Chatman was thinking, “You don’t have to recruit me, sweetheart. I’m here.’’

While Dupree is a bit more laid back, Chatman brings the verbal hard edge, something a re-tooling – sorry, we don’t say rebuilding – team desperately needs.

“She’s a lot of fun to play for,’’ Dupree. “I really enjoy playing for coaches who get fired up and are really intense. They’re not afraid to scream and yell and hold people accountable. As players, we feed off that energy. It reminds me of (college coach) Dawn Staley, just really intense and passionate about the game.’’

A new era begins tonight for the Fever, who open the season at the Seattle Storm Sunday evening. The franchise will be moving forward without Catchings for the first time since 2001, but Dupree and Chatman are undaunted. Time marches on, and those two plan to lead the parade.

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