Catchings, Tamika 1979–
Tamika Catchings 1979–
Professional basketball player
The daughter of a professional basketball player, Tamika Catchings grew up immersed in the game. “Whatever I wanted to work on, [my father] was there,” she told the Westchester, N.Y., Journal News. “We were always going to the gym. He was helping me out, helping me with my post moves, making sure that I took my jump shot and developed my 3-point shot, too.” Catchings was an excellent study, possessing a fearlessness that stunned her father. “She’s much more aggressive and creative on offense than I ever was,” he told Sports Illustrated. Her skill on the court earned her honors in high school, college, and in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). It has also earned her extensive praise. “Catchings is the now and the future of the game,” Basketball Hall-of-Famer Nancy Lieberman told the New York Times. “I’ve played and coached against the best players in the world, and no one has played like she does.”
Catchings was born on July 21, 1979, in Stratford, New Jersey, to Harvey and Wanda Catchings. Her father, an 11-season NBA player, taught all three of his children the game. “They all enjoyed playing,” he told the New York Times, “but Mika is like an addict.” After retiring from the NBA, Harvey Catchings settled his family in Deerfield, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, where Catchings became even more focused on basketball. Born with a severe hearing loss in both ears, Catchings had to wear boxy hearing aids as a child. Almost instinctively she turned to basketball as a way to deal with this adversity. “Basketball was everything to me,” she told Sports Illustrated. “Whenever I got mad, I would play basketball; whenever I was happy, I would play basketball. Anything I was feeling, I’d play basketball.” In the same article her father explained, “I think the fact that people considered it a disability really pushed her. Where others might use a disability as an excuse, she used it as a driving force.”
The more time she spent playing ball, the more competitive Catchings became. “She goes out to win at all costs, whatever it takes,” her father told Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. One of her coaches at the University of Tennessee would later tell Sports Illustrated, “She cannot stand to lose.” Fortunately for her disposition, Catchings didn’t lose much during high
At a Glance…
Born Tamika Catchings on July 21, 1979, in Stratford, NJ; daughter of Harvey (a retired professional basketball player) and Wanda Catchings. Education: University of Tennessee, BA, sports management, 2001.
Career: Indiana Fever, WNBA, forward, 2001–; Chicago Blaze, NWBL, forward, 2003–.
Awards: Named Illinois’ Miss Basketball, 1995; Naismith Award, National Female Prep Player of the Year, 1997; U.S. Basketball Writers Association, Freshman of the Year, 1998; League for the Hard of Hearing, Athlete of the Year, 1998; Reynolds Society Achievement Award, 2000; Naismith National Player of the Year, 2000; ESPY Award, College Player of the Year, 2000; WNBA Outreach Award, 2002; WNBA Rookie of the Year, 2002.
Addresses: Office —Indiana Fever, 125 S. Pennsylvania St., Indianapolis, IN 46204.
school. In 1995 she and her sister Tauja led their school to the Illinois state high school championships. The game earned Catchings the title of Miss Basketball in Illinois. It was the last time the sisters would play together. The following year Catchings’s parents divorced and her family split apart. She moved to Duncanville, Texas, with her mother, while her sister and brother remained behind in Illinois. Catchings found refuge from the trauma of the separation on the court. Soon she was leading Duncanville High to the 1997 Texas championship title. For her efforts she earned a Naismith Award as the national schoolgirl player of the year.
The Naismith Award, the most prestigious honor in high school basketball, brought Catchings national recognition, as well as scholarship offers to more than 200 universities and colleges. In an act of modesty that has become characteristic of her off-court personality, Catchings wrote thank-you notes to each of those schools. “For me not to say anything would have been selfish,” she told the New York Times. The school decision was made after Catchings watched the University of Tennessee’s Lady Volunteers on television, being coached by Pat Summitt. With five NCAA championships under her belt, Summitt was known throughout the world of college basketball as an extremely intense, hard-driving coach—just what the extremely intense, hard-playing Catchings needed. “I wanted a coach who would push me,” she told Sports Illustrated. The two were a good match and, according to the New York Times, “Catchings bloomed under Summitt’s exacting system.”
Catchings proved herself worthy as a team member, scoring an average of 18.2 points per game that season, a Tennessee freshman record. She also set high standards in rebounds and assists. Her skill helped drive Tennessee to the NCAA 1998 tournament, where she scored a team-high 27 points, and felt the thrill of a national championship when Tennessee beat Louisiana Tech 93 to 75. Many thought that Catchings should have won the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award for that game, but the honor went to another teammate. In her typically humble fashion, Catchings shrugged it off, telling Sporting News, “In my eyes, it doesn’t really matter. We won the championship. Who cares who got what honors?” Catchings did end up with several honors, including the Naismith National Freshman of the Year award and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association Freshman of the Year award. She was also named a Kodak All-American team member. The Kodak team, made up of the top ten NCAA women’s basketball players, is one of the oldest and most prestigious honors in college basketball, and Catchings was only the fourth freshman to be appointed to their ranks.
Catchings continued to rack up awards over her next three years at Tennessee. She became only the second Lady Volunteer in the school’s history to score 2,000 points. During her junior year she was once again singled out for a Naismith trophy, this time for National Player of the Year. Also in 2000 she received an ESPY award—the sports world’s answer to the Oscars—for College Player of the Year. She landed three more nominations to the Kodak All-American team, becoming only the fourth female athlete to make the team four times in a row. Other all-star teams that nominated her to their rosters included the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated, Sporting Journal, and the Women’s Basketball Journal. In 2000 she demonstrated her mettle by rejoining the Lady Volunteers during the NCCA Mideast Regional playoffs after suffering a pain-searing ankle sprain in the first half of the game. Her steely dedication earned her the Most Outstanding Player honors for the game.
Catchings did not confine her best performances to the basketball court. She excelled in the classroom, making the honor roll during her senior year with a 4.0 GPA. In December of 2000 she graduated a semester early, with a degree in sports management. However, the joy she felt in finishing school was soon dampened by injury. The following month her right anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) snapped during a game against Mississippi State. At the time she was being touted as the number one draft choice for the WNBA, but a torn ACL severely injures the knee and can require up to a year of recovery. Her college basketball career was over. However, prior to the injury she had led Tennessee in scoring and rebounding, helping to push the Lady Volunteers into the number two slot in the national rankings, and the WNBA did not overlook her track record or her skill. She was the third overall pick by the Indiana Fever during the first round of the WNBA 2001 Draft. Though she tried to speed up her recovery with the hopes of going professional during her first season, it wasn’t to be. She remained sidelined—and frustrated—as she watched the Fever limp to a dismal 10 to 22 record.
Catchings roared onto the court as a forward with the Fever in 2002, quickly making up for lost time. She was named WNBA Player of the Week for averaging 25 points per game in her very first week as a professional. She kept up the pace all season, leading the Fever to their first-ever appearance in the playoffs. Along the way she made her mark in several league statistical categories—first in steals, second in scoring, and fourth in rebounds. “When you talk about do-it-all players, you should just put ‘equals Tamika Catchings,’” a New York Liberty player told Sports Illustrated. “She can shoot it, rebound it and push it. Man, she is everywhere.” The league was impressed, too, and voted her WNBA Rookie of the Year. She also came in second in votes for Defensive Player of the Year, and third for MVP. Catchings’s performance also landed her a starter position on the East Conference team for the WNBA’s All-Star game.
Catchings continued tearing up the courts in 2003, leading the Fever to the number six spot in the league. Again she posted some impressive numbers, including second in overall points, second in steals, and third in points per game. However, as her coach Nell Fortner pointed out, statistics are one thing, but “you have to see her in person to truly appreciate the kind of player she is. She is absolutely relentless.” After playing with Catchings during the 2002 All-Star game, WNBA superstar Sheryl Swoopes was quoted by the University of Tennessee’s Daily Beacon website as saying, “Tamika Catchings is just absolutely fabulous. She plays all-out, all the time.” The end of 2003 found Catchings back on the All-Star team and in second place in voting for the league’s MVP.
When not with the Fever, Catchings made impressive debuts with several other teams. She led the start-up National Women’s Basketball League in nearly every statistical category while playing for the Chicago Blaze. Overseas she was a star player in the Women’s Korea Basketball League, leading her Woori Bank Hansae team to the title championships. Catchings was also the only rookie to be named to the 2002 U.S. National team. According to the New York Times, Catchings saved the day at the final game of the World Championships. “Superstars Swoopes and Lisa Leslie struggled with poor shooting, and the Chinese crowd, sensing a possible upset, began to chant ‘Rus-si-ya! Rus-si-ya!’ Catchings took control, dumping in 16 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.” Her efforts paid off with a gold medal for the United States.
On the court, Catchings is everywhere. The same applies off-court. From an appearance on a Multigrain Cheerios cereal box, to the covers of dozens of magazines, to television features across the dial, Catchings seems to be everywhere. “[The WNBA] want her to be the public persona for the league,” her lawyer told the Indianapolis Star. Entering its eighth season in 2004, the WNBA remained a burgeoning entity, still looking for a fan base and wider recognition. Players like Catchings are proving crucial in the efforts to achieve those goals. “She’s so passionate as a person. I think that shows on the court,” an executive at the WNBA declared in the Indianapolis Star, adding, “That same passion applies to her off-the-court life as well, in terms of marketing and the community.” In addition to marketing the WNBA, Catchings has reached out to hearing-impaired children, speaking at schools and other events. “As a kid I always pictured pro athletes as perfect,” she told Sports Illustrated. “Talking to these kids lets them know they’re not alone.”
As she prepared to enter her third season as a professional basketball player with the WNBA, Catchings looked forward to her next goal. “I’m very hungry [for a championship], that’s what you play for,” she told Sports Illustrated for Kids. “I’ve won a championship on just about every level. I want to win one on the WNBA level.” Whether that happens or not, one thing is certain—women’s basketball will remain forever changed by the appearance of Catchings and her colleagues. “For me, I was always looking at [my father] and watching him and his teammates play,” she told the Appleton, Wisconsin, Post-Crescent website. “But it’s cool now to look around and go to our games and see girls wearing our jerseys and talking about their role models being a female athlete. It’s really important for me to set a good example and be out there and be visible.”
Indianapolis Star, July 12, 2003; July 26, 2003; August 16, 2002.
Journal News (Westchester, NY), April 2, 2000, p. 13C.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, March 30, 2000.
New York Times, May 25, 2003, p. 26.
Sporting News, November 30, 1998, p. 90.
Sports Illustrated, November 23, 1998, p. 144; July 8, 2002, p. R2.
Sports Illustrated for Kids, July 1, 2003, p. 49.
“Catchings Embraces Status as Role Model,” Wislnfo (Appleton Post-Crescent), www.wisinfo.com/postcrescent/sports/archive/sports_l3706102.shtml (December 23, 2003).
“Tamika Catchings,” WNBA, www.wnba.com/player-file/tamika_catchings/bio.html (December 23, 2003).
Tamika Catchings Official Website, www.catchin24.com (December 23, 2003).
“WNBA Trying to ‘Catch’ Former UT Star,” University of Tennessee (Daily Beacon), www.dailybeacon.utk.edu/article.php/6599 (December 23, 2003).
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