2002 Training Camp: Ones to Watch

WNBA training camps are under way and preseason games are on the horizon. It's time to get ready for a new season, time to start following your favorite teams religiously and time to welcome a new era of talent into a new era of basketball. As general managers and head coaches around the league are hard at work trying to pare down rosters and put together the best group of players, WNBA.com is doing some "scouting" of our own. Join us as we take a look at a rookie, a veteran, a team and a coach to "watch out" for this season.

The Rookie
After the 2002 Draft, the first person that comes to most people's minds when they hear "WNBA rookie" is none other than Sue Bird. Although she has been called a "once in a lifetime" player, was the first-ever point guard to be selected No. 1 overall, and many have already predicted Bird to fly away with the Rookie of the Year award, it's just too early to be handing out the hardware. Besides, what about the third overall pick in the draft? No, not this year's draft -- LAST year's draft.

Forward Tamika Catchings will take the court this summer for the first time in a Fever uniform, making her eligible for Rookie of the Year. (Fever Photo)

Consider this: When the Indiana Fever selected Tamika Catchings with the third pick in the 2001 draft, many were surprised, although the Fever thought they had gotten away with a steal. Catchings was still rehabilitating from a torn ACL suffered during her senior season at Tennessee, and some felt that had she been healthy, she would have been right there with Lauren Jackson for Seattle's top pick.

The Fever wanted Catchings and were willing to wait. Despite expectations of rejoining the team at the end of last season, Catchings experienced additional pain in early July and had to undergo a second surgery on torn cartilage. That was the end of Catchings' rookie season & or was it?

During the 2001 season, Catchings was never activated, never officially showed up on the roster other than on the injured list and never bounced a ball in a Fever uniform. What does that mean? It means that this year's rookie class of Sue Bird, Stacey Dales-Schuman, Swin Cash and the rest, just grew by one: Tamika Catchings.

"If there's a better rookie, I want to see it," Houston Comets coach Van Chancellor, also the current USA Basketball Women's Senior National team coach commented. "You would never know she was hurt. She's been the biggest surprise of (Team USA) training camp."

Catchings was invited by USA Basketball to spend "a few days" in spring training camp and ended up spending a few weeks. Even more impressive, Chancellor couldn't keep her out of the line-up. Before starting a single game for the Fever, Catchings was starting at power forward for Team USA during a March exhibition series. Prior to joining the National Team, Catchings played in a domestic women's league during the WNBA offseason for their Chicago squad. During one game, Catchings led her team to victory with 27 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, six steals and three blocks. What's more, those numbers weren't out of the ordinary for Catchings since returning to action.

The six-foot Catchings is expected to start at power forward, alongside fellow Tennessee alum and new Fever guard Nikki McCray, but will probably see some action at the small forward position as well. A tall order for a rookie joining a team that finished 10-22 last season and that is expected to be one of the most improved teams this season. But then again, this prospective Rookie of the Year seems to be full of surprises.

Check back soon for our veteran, team and coach to watch!