Mavunga impresses in WNBA debut

Rookie Stephanie Mavunga’s teammates call her the Energizer Bunny.

In her professional debut for the Indiana Fever, the Zimbabwe-born basketball star and 2013 IndyStar Miss Basketball out of Brownsburg, provided a critical spark off the bench in the team’s exhibition opener against the Chicago Sky at Bankers Life Fieldhouse last week.

Mavunga, the team’s second-round pick in last month’s WNBA draft, scored a game-high 18 points, helping the Fever to a 79-65 win.

Fever coach Pokey Chatman said she didn’t think the Ohio State product looked like a rookie.

“She played like she’s played her entire life, to her strength,” Chatman said.

“Everything was in the paint, everything was aggressive. Rebounding out of her area, offensive rebounds.”

Shooting 7-of-10 from the field, Mavunga also pulled down eight rebounds, including four on the offensive end.

Mavunga outperformed the Fever’s two first-round picks: Kelsey Mitchell (No. 2 overall) and Victoria Vivians (No. 8 overall).

Mitchell, the second-leading scorer in women’s college basketball history, finished with eight points on 2-of-12 shooting in her WNBA debut.

Vivians had five points and three rebounds.

In her first game for the Fever, Mavunga lived up to her nickname.

“They are always laughing at me because I’m always smiling,” she said.

“So, I’m always smiling about something and I really kind of show all my teeth. I just always have this energy and I’m always talking regardless.”

Mitchell has played with Mavunga for years at Ohio State, and she believes Mavunga’s energy is what sets her apart.

“She’s always on the boards, she’s always energised to make the next play, get that block, get that rebound,” Mitchell said.

“That’s not going to change because her energy is so up high.

At Ohio State, Mavunga played the five position, but Chatman asked her to play the four Monday.  It was just another part of the rookie learning curve.

“I put her out there at the four position and her game didn’t drop,” Chatman said.

“She’s having to think a different position.”

A new position is just a small part of the adjustment to the WNBA, though she said she wasn’t nervous heading into her first game because her teammates helped instil her with confidence. Yet, when the game started, she got a dose of reality of life as a pro.

“Honestly, when I got out there it was a little bit different,” Mavunga said.

“I got hit by (Stefanie) Dolson on the first play, so I kind of was like, ‘Ok, we’re here and the game has started.”

In Year 2 post-Tamika Catchings, the Fever will rely heavily on youth.

Indiana had its streak of consecutive years making the playoffs snapped at 12 last season and the Fever plunged to 11th place, finishing 9-25 in 2017.

“We’re in a unique situation in terms of a franchise in a true opportunity to make a mark and stick,” Chatman said.

“That’s not always prevalent in a league with 12 teams. They have a tremendous opportunity.”—Indystar.com

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