Catchings prepares for final Olympic run
By Cliff Brunt, IndySportsLegends.com | July 24, 2012
Tamika Catchings says only one result will make her final trip to the Olympics successful.
“Not winning the gold medal as a USA team – everybody will look at it as a failure,” the Indiana Fever star said before heading across the pond.
Now 33 years old, the reigning WNBA MVP says she’s ready to claim a third gold medal in London and pass the leadership torch to younger stars.
That’s the thing about Catchings. It is, and always has been, about winning and team. She won the MVP award last season, an honor usually reserved for offense-first stars, yet she is arguably the best defensive player in WNBA history.
Her performances in exhibition games since the Olympic break show her value at this point in her career. She shot 9-for-28 from the field in four games, yet Geno Auriemma keeps her with the starters for other reasons. She’s also averaging 4.8 rebounds and 3.0 steals while playing about 20 minutes per game. The reserves often play more minutes than she does.
That’s fine with her. In Catchings’ mind, winning only happens when players sacrifice for the greater good. She said before leaving the states that expects the same from her teammates.
“I don’t care what you do on your own team, but we have 12 players in this venture that have committed to do their part,” she said.
Catchings expects challenges from Australia and Russia, teams with WNBA talent who have been in the mix before. Australia won the World Championship in 2006 and Russia finished second while the United States finished third.
“You know that every game out, they’re going to play their best game against you,” she said.
She speaks from experience. She understands what it’s like to win, but she also remembers that bronze at the 2006 World Championships, an experience that helps her appreciate winning more. She brightened up immediately when asked about the gold medal ceremony.
“Like a fireworks show,” she said. “You’re just standing up on the podium and the flag is being raised up. People are crying.”
Because it’s her last Olympics, Catchings said she will appreciate the little things about this trip. She looks forward to walking into opening ceremonies and exchanging pins with athletes from other nations. She also looks forward to interacting with American athletes who don’t play basketball.
“Some countries, I’ve never even heard of until you take that walk, then it’s like, ‘wow,’” she said. “I think the most amazing part about it is, we get so stuck in our world of being basketball players, and we hang out with the men’s team and the women’s team -- you don’t realize all the other sports that are there. When we say USA, we’re not just talking about basketball, it’s USA, like every single sport. They’re looking at you like, ‘I could never play basketball,” she said. “You’re looking at them like, I could never do what you do. It’s just a lot of fun to talk and learn about different sports.”
The interaction with different people takes the Olympics over the top in terms of life experiences for Catchings. She welcomes the responsibility that comes with being an ambassador.
“It’s an extra sense of pride, and an extra sense of responsibility, too, because when we go over there, every single person that comes into contact with us from different countries — how we respond to them is how they think every single American acts,” she said.
Even with her age – she’s the oldest player in the team and one of just two born in the 1970s – she said she feels energized and ready to perform.
“I feel good. I feel really good,” she said. “I’m not going to be playing 30-plus minutes, I’m going to be playing about 10, 15, 16, 17 minutes, something along those lines. Look at the players that you’re going to be playing with. I know if I go out, the level, if it doesn’t go up, it’s at least going to be maintained.”
Catchings reflected on how she wants her international career to be viewed.
“I want people to remember me for the way that I play, just how I play so hard and putting everything out there, but also my character,” she said. “I’m a very faith-oriented person. The way I carry myself is important, and in the interaction I have with people, I kind of want them to feel that.”
Cliff Brunt is the editor and lead writer for IndySportsLegends.com which covers the Indiana Fever as well as the WNBA as a whole. Brunt recently completed seven years writing for the Associated Press where he was a beat writer for the Indiana Pacers, Purdue football and basketball and the Indiana Fever. Over a 15-year sports writing career, he has covered the 2008 Beijing Olympics, two men’s and one women’s NCAA Final Four, Super Bowl XLVI, the College World Series, the Indianapolis 500, the NFL Scouting Combine and the NBA and WNBA playoffs. He also loves and may be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cliffbrunt_isl.