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Fever's consistency, success begin with GM Kelly Krauskopf

Fever star Tamika Catchings and Kelly Krauskopf, president and general manager, have been two key pieces to Indiana's success. Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS -- On a street corner in downtown Indianapolis Friday afternoon, a gaggle of little girls bearing "Go Fever" signs waited for the light to change and held their own private pep rally.

"That's credit to Kelly beating her head against the wall," noted Cheryl Reeve, the head coach of the Minnesota Lynx, Indiana's Game 3 WNBA Finals opponent later that night. "I hope Kelly is sitting back and having a martini and enjoying all of it."

Kelly Krauskopf, Indiana's president and general manager, was hardly in the mood for celebrating after Maya Moore's game-winner as time expired gave the Lynx an 80-77 victory Friday night and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series.

But the Fever could muster up some confidence from a 4-0 record this season in elimination games, 8-2 since 2012, and a body of work that boasts a sustained level of excellence few other teams in the league can match.

"They have a great thing going," Reeve said.

Since 2005, the Fever have reached the playoffs a league-record 11 straight seasons, including five consecutive Eastern Conference finals appearances and eight overall -- the highlight of those being their WNBA title in 2012.

And from their star Tamika Catchings down through virtually every department head in the front office, it has been with the same cast of characters.

Krauskopf has the longest tenure of any top executive in the WNBA. It's been 16 years since she left the league office, where she served as the first director of basketball operations.

"To this day, friends and family say, 'I thought you were only going to do this for a few years,' " said the native Texan and former basketball player at Texas A&M. "I thought, 'I'll come in, get it started and get some things going then go do something else.' And 16 years later, here we are."

They are there, among the highest in league attendance, with corporate partnership sales that have more than doubled in four years, and enjoying a relationship with the Indianapolis sports community Krauskopf describes as "one big family."

The Fever are one of six WNBA teams with NBA ownership groups. But that does not always guarantee a supportive environment.

"I've seen many a team that pays lip service to it or really don't even pay attention to it," Reeve said. "Having good people in those [NBA management] spots -- good, enlightened men to be allies and really, truly be behind it is the biggest thing, and Kelly has worked really hard on those relationships."

Krauskopf credits the leadership of Jim Morris, Pacers Sports and Entertainment vice chairman, and Rick Fuson, President and COO who has also flown to every road playoff game, with creating the team spirit and inclusion within the organization.

"Donnie Walsh was a mentor to me. I'd go sit down in his office and talk about players and about things I wanted to do. I don't know if he even knew he was being a mentor, he was just being himself and sharing his wisdom." Kelly Krauskopf, Fever president and GM

And from the start, Krauskopf said, she remembers the generosity of then-Pacers President Donnie Walsh as being instrumental.

"Donnie Walsh was a mentor to me," she said. "I'd go sit down in his office and talk about players and about things I wanted to do. I don't know if he even knew he was being a mentor, he was just being himself and sharing his wisdom. ... And today, he's our biggest advocate and our biggest fan and somebody I can still stop in at any time. That was a big part of the building years."

But it is the team's "pillar" in Catchings, the continued loyalty of former coach Lin Dunn and Dunn's predecessor Stephanie White who are just as responsible for a top-down philosophy that builds on itself despite the team never having had a No. 1 draft pick.

"It's the culture of the franchise, the things they stand for, their core values," said Dunn, who remains a mentor to White. "Some people can't play for the Indiana Fever. You have to be totally committed to toughness, hard work, playing defense, being unselfish."

Catchings, who said she will retire after next season, said the passion is "embedded" in her teammates. "So that when I look at the future and where it goes when I'm gone, I think that same passion and that same desire [will remain]."

She has expressed a desire to be a GM and has studied Krauskopf's style, praising her ability to "consistently putting together the pieces of the puzzle."

Krauskopf half-jokes she has to plan for everyone's replacement, including White, who is just finishing her first season. But it's been her calculated and meticulous planning that practically had White hired years before Dunn had retired.

White was Krauskopf's first player transaction with the Fever when she traded for her before the 1999 season, the team's inaugural year, and she soon recognized White's potential coaching abilities. And when the former Purdue star was an assistant coach in Chicago in 2009 and the Sky were practicing before a game with the Fever, Krauskopf remembers sidling up and telling her, "We might want to think about getting you back to Indiana when your contract is up."

Two years later White came aboard as an assistant under Dunn, her former college coach who remembers purposely missing some practices to better prepare her.

"Looking back," Dunn said, "I should've gotten myself thrown out of a game or two."

Nevertheless, said Krauskopf, "it was a seamless transition."

Could be a team slogan.