Gold medalist Catchings turns attention to strong Fever finish

By Tom Rietmann

INDIANAPOLIS -- When Tamika Catchings arrived in the Fever locker room Wednesday to prepare for her first Indiana practice since returning from the Olympic Games, she pulled out her gold medal to show to teammates.

Fever forward Shavonte Zellous, always one to keep things light, lowered the medal around her neck.

“Zellous is probably the one that hogged it the most,” Catchings, laughing, said about her friend. “She had to put it on. 'OK, everybody take pictures. I'm the Olympian.' ”

The Fever team enjoyed the moment, but Catchings got the medal back in plenty of time for Wednesday's news conference celebrating her triumphant return from the London Olympics.

It was the Fever star's third gold medal as a member of the U.S. team in Olympic competition. She's been an integral part of  powerful squads that have built a 41-game winning streak in Olympic competition.

Observers watching the ease with which the U.S. team dispatched its foes might think the women came home with few lasting memories. To the contrary, said Catchings.

“It was just a great group of ladies that I had an opportunity to be around,” she said. “I think every single game really was memorable. … Even though the span of points was a little bit wide and we were beating teams by a lot, everybody was still so into it. Just having that intensity was a great feeling.”

Catchings, who at 33 was the oldest player on the U.S. unit, assumed a role as a team leader. She also averaged 6.1 points in starting eight games, playing 19.3 minutes per outing. She grabbed 4.9 rebounds per game and totaled 17 assists, 13 steals and five blocked shots.

Catchings had indicated in interviews before her departure for London that the 2012 Games would be her last Olympic venture. But after the U.S. romp, Diana Taurasi declared to the world that she and  Catchings and Sue Bird -- all three-time Olympians -- would return for the 2016 Games in Brazil.

Now Catchings isn't so sure about her future Olympic plans.

“There's something about playing in those Games. … I don't know,” Catchings said Wednesday. “Four years is a long time from now. We have to take care of business here (with the Fever), first and foremost. We'll see what happens.”

Indeed, taking care of business is something Catchings and the Fever (10-7) talked about prior to Wednesday's practice session. Catchings passed out Olympic souvenir goody bags to each teammate and then they talked about progress the club made during the her month-long absence. The Fever players also discussed as a group the WNBA season's second half, which begins for them on Thursday night against visiting Washington.

Catchings flew all day Sunday and returned to her Indianapolis home that night. She spent a lot of time Sunday night and Monday dealing with a broken water heater, but she also enjoyed enough rest that jet lag and fatigue haven't become a problem.

“I feel good,” said Catchings, who frequently communicated from London with Fever teammates via texting, Twitter and Facebook. “I missed my teammates. I had a great time with those ladies (on the Olympic team), but there's something about having your home and your team.”

Catchings won an NCAA title as a player at Tennessee. She is the reigning Most Valuable Player in the WNBA, and her pro career is one of the most decorated in history for individual accomplishments. And now she's the envy of millions of athletes as a three-time gold medalist.

What Catchings still desires is to see the Indiana club stitch together a strong second half and make its  WNBA title hopes a reality.

 “That's something I want for myself and the team, just having that opportunity,” said Catchings, who is averaging a Fever-leading 18.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.0 steals.

Indiana seeks to finish strong to enhance its Eastern Conference seeding and home-court advantage in the postseason.

Coach Lin Dunn listed improved rebounding as Indiana's top focus during the Olympic break. Catchings said the team, which has made seven consecutive playoff appearances, also has worked on “minor details” that too often get overlooked.

“It's the simple box-outs (in rebounding),” Catchings said. “It's the simple screens and using those screens. It's switching on screens when you're on defense. It's all little stuff that adds up to big things when you look at wins and losses. I know that's something they've been focusing on since I've been gone.”

Indiana will meet Atlanta on Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse before a three-game trip to play Los Angeles, Seattle and Phoenix.

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