W.N.B.A. Preview: With Sabrina Ionescu, the Liberty Hit Refresh

Indiana Fever Coach Marianne Stanley smiled when she saw her team’s season schedule.

The first matchup is against the Washington Mystics, the defending W.N.B.A. champions — and her old squad.

“I don’t know if that was by design by the league or what — perhaps — but yes, I’m very familiar with Washington, obviously, but it’s exciting,” Stanley said. “I told our team, you know you only get to be a champion if you play the champion, and so the path for our growth and to the playoff and championship rounds is to play teams like Washington. What better way to start the season?”

Stanley, a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn., who had been a Mystics assistant coach since 2010, is now at the helm of a solid mix of proven veterans and young, promising talent.

But don’t call it a rebuild. This team is looking to compete now.

They certainly have the pieces: Returning veterans, including Candice Dupree, Teaira McCowan and Victoria Vivians — back after sitting out last season with an A.C.L. tear — and a backcourt featuring Kelsey Mitchell, Erica Wheeler and Tiffany Mitchell. Also on tap is the 2020 No. 3 overall pick, Lauren Cox, and guard Julie Allemand.

But an uphill climb awaits: Their last winning season was 2015, they haven’t reached the postseason since 2016 and they finished last year ranked fourth in the East at 13-21.

Regardless, Stanley remains focused.

“We want to establish a culture of winning and a culture of players playing hard and playing together. I would expect you will see us improve each time we go out there,” she said. “That’s what good teams do, what championship teams do.”

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