Catching The Fever: Patberg happy to be part of WNBA training camp in home state

Columbus North and Indiana University graduate Ali Patberg plays defense on the opening day of the Indiana Fever training camp on Sunday April 17, 2022.

Submitted photos

After playing her high school and college basketball careers in Indiana, Ali Patberg’s professional career also is starting off here in her home state.

The 2015 Columbus North graduate was picked in the third round of last week’s WNBA Draft by the Indiana Fever. She began training camp with the team on Sunday.

“It’s awesome,” Patberg said. “I love Indiana. My goal when deciding where I wanted to go to college was to stay in Indiana, just because that’s how much I love it here. I guess I fell in love with honestly, the game of basketball here in Indiana. I truly believe it is different. I don’t know exactly why. I’m still trying to figure that out, but I think just the passion and the love for the game is just unique. So that was my goal going into college, to stay here, and I’m thankful that I have this opportunity here in Indiana with the Fever, and I’m going to try to make the most of it.”

Patberg spent the first two years of her college career at Notre Dame, the first of which ended with a torn ACL in preseason practice. She transferred to Indiana University after her second year and had to sit out her first year there because of NCAA transfer rules.

After her first two years of playing for the Hoosiers, the NCAA granted her a sixth season of eligibility because of the two years she had to sit out. Then, all NCAA athletes received a COVID year, and Patberg opted to come back after last season.

“My journey was very unique,” Patberg said. “They were a lot of lows. There were a lot of questioning if I could do it. But I never stopped believing in myself, and I had a great support system. There were going to be lows, and that’s what makes you stronger. It doesn’t really matter what your journey looks like. If you work hard, I think you can do anything, and that’s what I’m continuing to do. I know there will still be a lot of lows and a lot of highs, but that’s what makes it fun. That’s what makes it worth it.”

Patberg is one of only two women to play college basketball over a seven-year period. But the 25-year-old doesn’t think that worked to her disadvantage.

“I’ve been in college basketball for seven years, so I have a lot of experience,” Patberg said. “A lot of people joke about that, but it’s actually been a blessing for me because I’ve learned a lot. My game has grown. My knowledge of the game has grown and my IQ has grown. So I think I bring a lot in a sense of, yes, I’m a rookie, but I’m a little older than the other rookies. So I think that honestly is an advantage and what they appreciate, as well.”

Columbus North and Indiana University graduate Ali Patberg follows through on a shot attempt on the opening day of the Indiana Fever training camp on Sunday April 17, 2022.

Submitted photos

One of the areas where Patberg’s game has expanded is in the positions that she can play. After playing point guard in high school and the first 5 1/2 years of her college career, she moved to shooting guard midway through the 2020-21 season.

“Growing up and in college, I’ve been a point guard,” Patberg said. “I’ve been a point guard my whole life, and then just the past two years, I’ve played off the ball. It was a difficult, but good, adjustment for me, just working my game and expanding it. So I’m thankful that the past couple years, I’ve been able to become more versatile, and I think that helped me, honestly, to get an opportunity here. I’m capable of doing the point and off the ball. I’m always willing to do whatever it takes to win, so whatever position they need, I’ll do it.”

Patberg finished her career ninth on Indiana’s all-time scoring list with 1,752 points and third on the all-time assist list with 528, and her career 14.2 points-per-game average ranks eighth. She earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors this season to become one of only three players in program history to be a four-time All-Big Ten player.

This season, she helped lead the Hoosiers to a 24-9 record and a second consecutive NCAA Sweet 16 appearance. The season ended with a loss to eventual national runner-up UConn in the regional semifinals.

“After we lost, it was really tough, but I think after a day or two, I was able to really just be thankful to being able to play for IU and to be a part of that program,” Patberg said. “It was a sad day or two, but it was a happy sad. I realized that one chapter was ending. I was told to take off four-ish, five-ish days, so I tried to do that, but then my goal was to start preparing for whatever came next, whether that was getting drafted, whether that was training camp, whether that didn’t happen, I was going to prepare for overseas. I’ve just been working again, getting back into the gym, conditioning, lifting. I took a few days to reflect and to emotionally move past us losing, but just reflecting on a great career at IU and just preparing for whatever was next.”

Patberg grew up going to Indiana Pacers games when Reggie Miller was playing and to Fever games when Tamika Catchings was playing. She hasn’t been to many games since she’s been in college, but she still has followed and kept up with the WNBA.

In a conference call with selected WNBA executives prior to the draft, Fever interim general manager Lin Dunn spoke highly of Patberg when asked about her.

“I think the fact that she’s already played seven years in college makes her uniquely prepared for the next level,” Dunn said. “She’s a little bit older than everybody else and has experience that most haven’t had leading their teams. She has great size. She’s 5-11. She can get to the rim. She can shoot the 3. She has leadership skills, so I think she is prepared and ready for the next level, definitely.”

The Fever will play exhibition games at 3 p.m. April 30 at home against the Chicago Sky and at 2 p.m. May 2 at the Dallas Wings. The roster likely will be cut from the 22 current players on the roster to 11 or 12 between May 2 and 4. The Fever open the season May 6 at the Washington Mystics and play their home opener May 8 vs. the Los Angeles Sparks.

The Fever, who had seven selections in the three-round draft, took Patberg with the 34th pick in the third round.

“I was prepared for anything,” Patberg said. “I’ve been working hard, and when my name popped up, I couldn’t really believe it, to be honest. I’m just thankful that I have an opportunity to show the Fever what I can do and just how hard I play.”