Fever Star Tamika Catchings on ’Figuring Out How to Win’

Fever forward Tamika Catchings finished the 2006 campaign ranked among the WNBA’s top 10 in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.
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Quite simply, Indiana forward Tamika Catchings may be the top all-around women's basketball player in the world. Yes, she is the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year, but she's far from a one-trick pony, having posted career averages of 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists a game.

But Catchings, entering her sixth year with the Fever after an impressive collegiate career at Tennessee, is still chasing her first WNBA title, a situation she hopes to remedy in 2007. After spending much of the offseason playing in Korea and in Italy with the U.S. national team, she is back Stateside to lead her squad into the new season. WNBA.com spoke with her recently from Italy.

Q. The Indiana Fever win more games each year, but have been unable to get past the Shock and Sun in the playoffs. How does this team make the jump?
"That's a hard question. I think for us we have always had great competition with the Shock and Sun. (It's) competitive (on the) East Coast. We always gone back and forth. It's now a matter of the size we have coming in. Tammy Sutton-Brown and Alison Bales come in and it will be a matter of fitting the pieces together and figuring out how to win. Detroit and Connecticut are two veteran teams. They are used to playing with each other and that is the one thing we lack. This nucleus has a year under its belt, and players have been away doing things to get better individually."

Q. How do you accomplish that?
"Now it's a matter of us coming back together and figuring out how to do this together. It doesn't matter if I score 40 points and we lose. I'd rather that I score 10, Tamika scores 10, Tammy scores 10, Ebony scores 10 and so on, but we win. If that's what it'll take, that's how we have to do it. We have to figure out a way to put all of our pieces together."

Q. As one of the premiere players in basketball, how do you get respected in this game and who do you respect?
"You get respect by working hard. I know there are a lot of players in the league who are good and have the God-given talent that has allowed them to get to where they are. Then there are other players who have worked so hard for everything they have gotten. They worked hard to get into the college of their choice, they worked hard to make it to the WNBA and they work still to keep their jobs every season and every day at practice. Those are the players that I respect. The players that come out and give 100% no matter what. Now it might not be my 100%, but it's their 100%. I know everyone's max levels of intensity are different."

"Basketball was one sport where I could say 'You may make fun of me now, but let's go on the basketball court,' " says Catchings. "'I guarantee that by the time we get done, you won't be making fun of me anymore.' "
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Q. Is there anyone in particular who you admire most?
"As far as individual players (go), I respect Tina Thompson. She has become one of my role models and mentors. Every time she does something, she has a purpose. Whether in practice or in games, everything has a purpose. For me, to talk to her and ask her questions or even just watching her, I can count on her for advice, support and expertise. And vice versa. She calls me and e-mails me and asks me questions. That mutual respect makes her even more important to me."

Q. When did you realize that you first loved the game?
"I was born around the game, so I cannot say that I first learned to play at a certain age. I played organized basketball for the first time when I was in third grade. But before that, my father played in the NBA and then over in Italy. I was always around the game, I was always outside and with my brother and sister or even their friends. It was natural for me to be around it."

Q. Did you ever think you'd be at the level you are at now?
"I don't think I ever pictured being at the level I'm at right now. But I can honestly say that when I was younger, it was something I loved to do. I played soccer, volleyball, softball and ran track. We did any sport, any activity from dance classes to gymnastics. My mom and dad put us in everything, but basketball was what I grasped onto like survival."

Q. You've talked about your difficult childhood before, but how did basketball help you through that?
"I was different growing up for a number of reasons… from my hearing impediment to having to wear glasses, but basketball was one sport where I could say 'You may make fun of me now, but let's go on the basketball court. I guarantee that by the time we get done, you won't be making fun of me anymore.' That's where my love for the game developed. As I got older, I knew I wanted to play professionally. I worked my hardest and did whatever I could until my goal was reached."