Tamika Catchings ready to pass the baton

 

SOECharlesHallmansquareTamika Catchings is the first U.S. player to be officially credited with a quintuple double (points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks) while in high school in Texas in 1997. Catchings, the daughter of an NBA player, later posted an All-American college career at Tennessee, and as a freshman, played on the 1998 Lady Vols’ undefeated national championship team.

Additionally, Catchings is a member of three USA Olympics gold-medal squads (2004, 2008, 2012), and became the fastest player to score 2,000 points in the WNBA in 2005. Four years later, she played in her first WNBA finals, but Indiana, the team that drafted her in 2001, fell to Phoenix in 2009.

(Photo by Onika Nicole Craven)
(Photo by Onika Nicole Craven)

Named league MVP in 2011, Catchings was the championship’s most valuable player in 2012 when the Fever defeated Minnesota in 2012. She will be in town Friday as Indiana visits Minnesota.

Earlier this year, Catchings announced her intention to retire after the 2016 WNBA season and next summer’s Olympics. As a result, this will be the first of her final two visits to Minneapolis.

Catchings talked to the MSR, briefly reflecting on her career given the fact that she was born with a hearing disability, wore a hearing aid as a youngster, and successfully bounced back from two major injuries — a torn ACL and Achilles’ tendon. In spite of those things, she became a 10-time All Star and five-time top defensive player in America’s longest running women’s pro basketball league.

“When I look at my life and I look at where I’ve been, and the opportunities that I’ve had every single day when I walk into that locker room, I’m blessed,” admitted the 6-1 Indiana forward.  “I always remember as a little girl, I had to work so much harder than everybody else, but I didn’t mind it because I knew one day that it would pay off.

“I’m blessed to be able to walk,” continued Catchings, who has played her entire 14-year career in Indiana, where she was drafted in 2001. “I’m blessed to be able to have a locker room to go to.  I’m blessed to have such great teammates.  I’m just blessed all the way around,” she said.

Catchings admits that her pro ball playing dreams didn’t include the WNBA: “I wanted to be in the NBA from seventh grade on. I was going to be in the NBA, and I was determined, and I was going to play with the guys and nobody could tell me no.

“I remember watching the ’96 Olympics [women’s basketball] team. That was the first time I really watched women play basketball. Then the WNBA comes around…my goals switched and I wanted to be in the WNBA.”

Catchings’ legacy all but assured — her hall of fame resume needing only the official word, which should come in a few years — a player must be “fully retired” for at least five years to be considered for induction in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

There will be a space for her: Catchings is vying to become the WNBA’s only player ever to spend an entire career of 15 or more seasons with the same team, joining present NBA counterparts Kobe Bryant (19), Tim Duncan (18), Dirk Nowitzki (17) and Tony Parker (14); along with retired NBAers Hal Greer (15), Elgin Baylor (14), Joe Dumars (14), David Robinson (14) and Jerry West.

The two-time Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award winner said, “I want to be remembered like they’re be[ing] remembered,” referring to such retired WNBAers as Dawn Staley.  “Like the legacy that they left for me and just the opportunity that they gave for all of us to be able to have this and to be able to play in.  A lot of people doubted the WNBA and how long it would last, and we’ll be celebrating 20 years next year.  That’s a heck of a thing to say. I’m just blessed to have been a part of it.”

Like a relay runner, Catchings accepted the baton from the greats and hasn’t looked back; she’s carried it proudly as the W’s ‘elder stateswoman.’ When she retires after next season, she said she hopes to, “be able to pass on the torch like players passed it on to us; [players like] “Lisa (Leslie), Dawn (Staley) and Sheryl (Swoopes), then it was Katie Smith and then our group (which includes) Cappie Pondexter (and) Lindsay Whalen.

“Then you have the younger group of Candace Parker and Maya (Moore),” noted the Fever forward. “It is cool to see the transition to the younger ladies” such as Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne, Skylar Diggins and others.

“Hopefully as a league we can build on that,” said Catchings.

 

Look for more on Tamika Catchings in this week’s Sports Odds and Ends.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.