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As Fever’s veteran leader, Dupree providing steadying presence

Stephanie Mavunga playfully hugs Candice Dupree, whom younger Fever players refer to as "Mama Candice." Kimberly Geswein photo.
Stephanie Mavunga playfully hugs Candice Dupree, whom younger Fever players refer to as "Mama Candice." Kimberly Geswein photo.
Stephanie Mavunga playfully hugs Candice Dupree, whom younger Fever players refer to as “Mama Candice.” Kimberly Geswein photo.

Minutes after stepping off the team bus outside Seattle’s Alaska Airlines Arena before a recent game, Candice Dupree was already out on the court.

With the floor nearly empty almost two hours before tip-off, the 14-year veteran was in the midst of the first of two pre-game warmups. It’s not a sight you would have seen in past seasons, but as the 34-year-old Indiana Fever forward will tell you, her old routine just wasn’t cutting it.

“I just didn’t really feel warm,” she said. “I felt like I would spend at least half of the first quarter trying to get my legs going.”

It’s a small adjustment, but the kind that leaves little question as to why coach Pokey Chatman refers to her as a “cerebral, savvy vet.”

Dupree is the elder stateswoman on a young Indiana team on which no other player on the roster has more than six years of WNBA experience, and only two others have at least four. Yet, she has embraced the role of veteran leader with warmth.

“They all see that I can put points on the board, but [I’m] just trying to be more of a vocal leader,” she said. “I think my basketball IQ is pretty high, so just trying to talk to them, and talk them through situations, help them view it a little differently, [and] see where they can be better.”

For a team that refers to Dupree as “Mama Candice,” it doesn’t take much to get everyone’s attention.

“When she speaks, she can whisper and she’s going to be heard,” Chatman said.

Candice Dupree unleashes a shot. Kimberly Geswein photo.

That’s the kind of respect befitting a six-time All-Star. But for someone with her staying power, Dupree was rarely the “go to” option in her past stops in Chicago or Phoenix that she’s been in Indianapolis.

“Most of her career — she was behind other Olympians in Phoenix — and not that she didn’t want to, she just didn’t have to,” Chatman said. “I think she welcomes that role with us.”

To an extent, her accomplishments have flown under the radar, despite being one of the league’s most prolific scorers and rebounders.

Earlier this year she passed Sue Bird for seventh on the all-time points list, and is all but certain to eclipse Lisa Leslie for sixth in the coming weeks. Her 2,100-plus rebounds currently rank eighth in league history.

“She’s just steady, reliable, she played 40 minutes in our [June 21 game against Chicago], and I don’t think she broke a sweat,” Chatman said. “It’s not because she wasn’t playing hard, it’s that she’s just so efficient in her movement and in everything that she does.”

That praise could also apply to how she’s balancing the rigors of whirlwind basketball seasons, both domestically and overseas, with life as a parent.

That’s getting easier though, she says, as the twin daughters she has with her wife, Phoenix forward DeWanna Bonner, continue to grow.

“They’re a lot more independent, even though they’re not even two years old yet,” she said. “But they think they can do everything on their own.”

Candice Dupree. Kimberly Geswein photo.

The couple is also helped by what Dupree says is an “amazing support system.” This past WNBA offseason the twins stayed stateside, mostly with Dupree’s sister and mother in Florida, while Dupree played in Hungary and Bonner in China. When the latter’s season ended in February, she took over main parenting duties for the next couple of months.

“Everybody’s lending a helping hand at this point, until one of us is done playing and can take care of them full time,” Dupree said.

For now the twins are with Dupree in Indianapolis, and her teammates are well aware where her priorities lie when the team is at home.

“You can have me 100 percent when we’re on the road, but when we’re at home, I’m all about my kids,” she said.

On the court, Dupree has remained the consistent dual-threat she’s been throughout her career, ranking third on the team in scoring and second in rebounds just past the season’s quarter-way mark. After limping to a 6-28 record in 2018, Indiana started the year 5-5, before dropping four straight to end the month of June.

While that stretch dropped them near the bottom of the standings, Dupree thinks her team is capable of making its first playoff appearance since 2016.

“There’s no reason we can’t be in the top eight come the end of the season,” she said.

If they are, Dupree will deserve much of the credit.

And you can bet she’ll be one of the first players out on the floor.

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