Tamika Catchings is Staying Busy, Looking to London
December 22, 2011
Since first donning a USA Basketball jersey in the summer of 1996, Tamika Catchings has become a fixture on USA teams. Winning two each of the coveted Olympic and FIBA World Championship gold medals, the teammates she’s had through the years list as a Who’s Who among basketball elite (Lisa Leslie, Dawn Staley and Sheryl Swoopes, to name three).
Making her USA National Team debut in 2002 as a starter for the USA World Championship Team that captured the gold medal with an unblemished 9-0 mark, the No. 3 pick by the Indiana Fever in 2001, Catchings has played in three FIBA World Championships, a pair of Olympiads and the FIBA Junior (U19) World Championship. She won the 1998 NCAA title as an All-American at the University of Tennessee and helped teams to four Korean League titles. The 2002 WNBA Rookie of the Year, Catchings has been tabbed the WNBA Defensive Player of the Year a record four times and most recently earned the 2011 WNBA MVP honor.
But ‘Catch’ isn’t just a one-dimensional athlete. She spends her time giving back to the local community more than most and accepts speaking engagements around the Indianapolis area and across the country. She recently spoke at John Brown University, helped distribute toys to the needy and hosted a party for Saint Joseph University for the Deaf in Indianapolis.
“Every single event that I do is really different and touching in its own way,” said Catchings when prodded to pick the most fulfilling event this year.
In addition to hosting camps and clinics and raising money to enable disadvantaged youths to attend basketball camps, Catchings created the Catch the Stars Foundation in 2004. Taking advice from three-time Olympian Dawn Staley, the foundation is targeted towards at-risk youths and its goal is to provide both academics and athletics programs. In 2008 Catchings was honored with the Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award.
In 2011 Catchings and the Indiana Fever looked poised to pick up the one title that seems to be missing from her trophy shelf – a WNBA championship. However, fate was not so kind as Catchings injured her foot in the second game of the conference finals. It turned out to be a torn plantar fascia in her right foot. She played in the third game, which saw Atlanta advance to the finals, and Catchings began the process of rehabbing her foot.
The offseason has not been all about rehab. Catchings has kept busy with her Catch the Stars Foundation, among other speaking engagements and appearances.
|The Catchings File:|
|•||Gold Medals: 2010 FIBA World Championship, 2008 Olympic Games, 2008 FIBA Diamond Ball Tournament, 2004 Olympic Games, 2002 FIBA World Championship, 2002 Opals World Challenge, 1998 R. William Jones Cup, 1997 FIBA Junior World Championship.
|•||Silver Medal: 1997 COPABA Junior World Championship Qualifying Tournament (U18).|
|•||Bronze Medal: 2006 FIBA World Championship.|
|•||Drafted: No. 3 in 2001 by the Indiana Fever.
|•||WNBA MVP: 2011|
|•||All-WNBA first team: 2002, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011|
|•||All-WNBA second team: 2004, 2005, 2007|
|•||WNBA Defensive Player of the Year: 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010|
|•||WNBA All-Defensive first team: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011|
|•||WNBA Rookie of the Year: 2002|
|•||WNBA All-Star Games: 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006 (injured), 2007, 2009, 2011|
|•||WNBA All-Decade Team: 1997-06|
|•||Top 15 Players in WNBA History (15th Anniv. Team): 2011|
|•||Korea League titles: 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007|
|•||WNBA Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award: 2010|
|University of Tennessee:|
During her four years at Tennessee, the Lady Vols posted a
|•||The 2001 ESPY award winner as the College Women's Basketball Player of the Year and consensus National Player of the Year in 2000.|
|•||Named to the 1998 and 2000 NCAA All-Final Four teams, earned 2000 NCAA Midest Region Most Outstanding Player honors and was selected to the 1999 NCAA East and 2000 Mideast All-Regional teams.|
|•||1997 Naismith National Prep Player of the Year.|
“I’ve been moving around, staying busy doing speaking engagements, including John Brown University, and working with the Catch the Stars Foundation,” said Catchings. “We just had our fitness clinic. We had a party (on Dec. 20) where we donated toys that were donated to us. We did a big Christmas party over at Saint Joe’s Institute for the Deaf here in Indianapolis and we’re gearing up for our camp next weekend. We’ll be hosting our 11th Annual Catch the Stars Youth Holiday Camp. We are officially sold out and I’m really excited.
“To see the success that we’ve had with all our programs, to me is just rewarding to see I can make a difference in the community,” she said. “If all the other programs fail, the one thing we’ll always have is the holiday camp.”
During the time since the end of the season, she made the decision to stay home over the winter. After traveling to South Korea for four “off seasons” and to Europe for an additional three, Catchings feels that with a long summer ahead of her, staying home might be a good thing.
In 2004 Tamika Catchings earned her first Olympic medal.
“Next year is obviously a big year with the Olympics coming up, Lord willing I’ll be on that team, and the WNBA season of course, I really want to focus on getting healthy, staying healthy and being ready for that.”
Of course, it also affords Catchings, who will be 33 years old a week before Opening Ceremonies in London, the opportunity to explore what life will be like after basketball, once she does step away from the game.
“My foot is 100 percent … I’m feeling good right now,” she said. “I feel like I could probably play another four, five or six years. But, at the level I play at, I don’t want to be one of those players where people go, ‘man! I remember when she used to do this, when she used to do that.’ I want to go out on top. It’ll just depend on how my body feels.”
When USA Basketball first caught a glimpse of this tenacious, 6-2 defender who never hesitated to dive across the court for loose balls – even in practice – she was a promising 17-year-old out of Duncanville High School (Texas). She had already made waves for being the first sophomore in history to earn Miss Illinois Basketball honors, prior to moving to Texas.
That summer, her 1996 USA Junior World Championship Team trained at the same time as the eventual 1996 U.S. Olympic Team, which featured Staley. Six years later, it was Staley to whom Catchings looked up to when she was on her first USA National Team.
“I learned the most from Dawn, just from a leadership standpoint,” Catchings stated when asked who had the most influence on her as a rookie on the national team. “I had always been a leader by example. But, being around her and seeing her lead, not only by example but vocally being able to get the job done. To be able to tell people what she needed and where she needed people to be, that was huge for me.”
As most women’s basketball fans know, Staley is one of a small handful of athletes to have had the opportunity be on three or more U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Teams. She shares that honor with Anne Donovan, Teresa Edwards, Leslie, Katrina McClain, Katie Smith and Swoopes. However, should two-time gold medalists Sue Bird, Catchings and Diana Taurasi make the 2012 team, the exclusive club will grow to 10.
What is it that sets these players apart from their peers?
“That’s an amazing group right there,” gushed Catchings. “I think it’s really the commitment. The commitment to excellence and being good at what we do. When you look at that group right there, I think about that will to win, that tenacity, that dedication to what we do, both on and off the court. I look at that and that’s probably the biggest thing. Not getting to the point where you can’t learn and can’t get better. Every single one of those players learned and got better and better and better throughout their careers.”
Looking ahead to London and the possibility of joining that elite group, Catchings feels that the biggest threat to the USA’s gold medal defense is its lack of training time.
“For us, and I know (USA head coach) Geno (Auriemma) is going to agree with this, it’s the lack of time together. Here we are again with not really being able to have the training sessions that most countries are going to be using this year to get their team ready for the Olympics. That’s probably going to be the biggest thing.”
As in the past, the USA will work around the limited training time and rely on its veterans to help steer its rookies. After all, the USA National Team has one loss on its major international record, going 72-1, since winning the 1994 FIBA World Championship bronze medal game. Since that contest USA Basketball teams have won four straight Olympic golds, three FIBA World Championship golds and the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship, with the only loss coming against Russia in the 2006 FIBA World Championship semifinal contest.
Of the 72-1 USA National Team record mentioned above, teams with Catchings on the roster are 42-1. The only event she missed since being called up in 2002 was the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship (5-0), due to a torn Achilles Tendon suffered during that year’s WNBA Playoffs.
Flanked by then-future University of Tennessee teammates Kristen Clement (left) and Kyra Elzy, Tamika Catchings shows off her first of many world championship golds - this one at the 1997 FIBA Junior Worlds.
During the major competitions, the exhibition games, her contests on junior teams, the first woman to earn a FIBA Junior World Championship and FIBA World Championship gold medal, Catchings has a lot of memories from which to draw during her 16-year USA Basketball career. So, when asked about her favorite memories, she had a difficult time coming up with just one. However, it was the ‘trading frenzy’ that takes place at the end of junior team events that came to mind first.
“I think that on the junior teams, the thing that was cool about it was that after the games all the teams stayed in one place, being able to trade stuff with the other teams. Some of the things we came back with was like, ‘okay, I probably will never wear this (Australian singlet),’ but it was all about the excitement of getting something from the other countries. I remember the excitement they had whenever they got anything USA Basketball, it was like, man. Not that you don’t appreciate what you represent, our country and everything else, but I think when you look at how other countries reacted to us as players and to the stuff that we were trading with them. I thought that was pretty cool.”
Once she does retire, Catchings will surely have more memories of her teams, teammates, countries visited, foods eaten and overall experiences with USA Basketball.
Catchings still hasn’t fully formulated her post-basketball plans and nobody is ready to see her walk away from the game, however, she has started thinking about the future.
“That’s kind of one of the reasons I didn’t want to go overseas,” she said. “I wanted to start looking at options of things that I find myself interested in. One of the things, of course, is my foundation, trying to figure out a way to expand that.
“Another thing that I really enjoy is being an ambassador for the WNBA, USA Basketball and women’s basketball in general. I love doing speaking engagements, so kind of along those same lines.”
For now, USA Basketball, the Indiana Fever and the rest of the basketball world (save for her opponents) are looking forward to seeing Catchings dive across the court after loose balls for several more years.