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An Interview with Tamika Catchings

In what can only be characterized as a fortunate development, Rocky Top Talk sat down with Tamika Catchings. Yeah, that Tamika Catchings.

So when you do things like win multiple gold medals, you get to meet some pretty unique people.
So when you do things like win multiple gold medals, you get to meet some pretty unique people.

As Lady Vol legends go, Tamika Catchings is pretty high up on that list. I'm guessing that for this audience, I don't need to list her accomplishments, but for the sake of it: part of the undefeated 1997-1998 Lady Vol team, part of the 2000 champions, three-time Olympic gold medalist, and for good measure led the Indiana Fever to a title in 2012. She ain't half bad.

You can probably figure out from here that we had an interview with Catchings; what I didn't have, unfortunately, was a recorder (and absent my usual trusty headphones, I couldn't really transcribe). As a result, the answers below are essentially paraphrases, reconstructed from my notes.

Before I get started, I should at least mention how this came about. Catchings was named as the chair to the Allstate WBCA Good Works Team (as you do when you have a lifetime of giving back, but I get ahead of myself), and as it happens, they want to put the word out a bit about it. Meanwhile, hey look a former Lady Vol is leading something. Again.

Of course.

Anyway. Enough with me. On to Catchings (I'm leaving my notes in parentheses for posterity).

  • On how Catchings got into community service in the first place: it started early with Catchings, since her dad also played basketball and she got to see the impact of giving back immediately. Of course, it continued through college (thanks, Pat!), and once she got into the pros, it made sense for her to start her own foundation, which is no small part of how this whole thing happened. It also allows for people to recognize some of the non-stars who may end up getting into community service more.
  • On the growth of the sport of women's basketball: It's been noticeable, and she likes the idea of a domestic league and a direct line of progression for players, as the publicity benefits are seen in younger generations. (Injecting a bit in here: the striation in women's college basketball has decreased in the last few years, which seems to point toward the sport growing since there's more talent to go around.)
  • On what comes after basketball: First off, Catchings isn't ready to retire yet. (I got the distinct impression I was the 800th person to ask her this question.) After that, though? She wants to be a general manager, possibly expand her Catch the Stars program, serve as an ambassador for both of them, and reach out to help youth realize their dreams.
  • On the Olympics: the 2004 Olympics felt like the first year of college. (Don't worry, we're getting there.) Dawn Staley led the '04 unit, and Catching was less concerned about being a leader and more trying to figure out where she fit in and trying to learn as much as she could. 2008 gave her a bit more freedom to voice her opinions, and by the time London rolled around, she was a team leader (along with Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird). Oddly enough, it sounded like the London team ended up way away from the practice arena, which turned into a bunch of long bus-rides - which turns into lots of team bonding.
  • On that '97-'98 team: "Wow." (I get the feeling that she'd talk about this team for hours. This was her warmest answer in terms of tone.) It was an amazing experience throughout the entire year, punctuated by some brutal practices - someone was always bleeding by the end of practice. Not surprisingly, practices made the game easier, and the whole coaching staff (both Summitt and Warlick were named) did a fantastic job.
  • Turning '98 into 2000: This was leading by example; because she was only a freshman in '97-'98, she used what she saw to help lead, and she helped with the Fab Four (Catchings, Semeka Randall, Kristen Clement, and Teresa Geter) when it came to setting expectations. However, she did note that she didn't fully grow into a leader until she made the pros (which seemed a little strange to me until I remembered how I was when I was 22).
  • On The Stare and Pat Summitt: Turns out when you get The Stare, you think Coach Summitt knows everything you've done wrong for the last month. Fortunately for Catchings, she only got it as a freshman. She got to see it unleashed on other people, though - as far as that goes? She wouldn't wish it on anybody. (Tonal note: she was half-laughing most of the time through this question.) As far as CPS goes: they talk about once a week, or at least text(!) - some days are easier than others. (There's a lot of affection there, as you'd expect. I would've loved to ask more questions on this, but hadn't timed myself out well.)
  • On Glory Johnson, because I just had to ask about her regardless as anyone who's read anything I've written over the last three years would understand: It was fun for Catchings to play against her, and she thought Glory played well. (On me talking about her evolution:) It's always fun to watch players evolve, and Catchings has tried to catch games involving Glory when she could. Right now, she's in a spot where she gets plenty of PT, plenty of confidence, and no shortage of opportunity. Glory's still quick and can guard multiple positions at the next level (she could defend 1-5 in college; sounds like she can't defend centers as well in the pros, though).
  • On Holly Warlick stepping up to head coach: Catchings is incredibly happy for her - it sounds like Catchings stays with Warlick whenever she's in town. It was great to Warlick assume the head coaching role and have an opportunity to succeed. (This was probably her second-warmest answer - her happiness came through in her tone alone.)
As far as my takeaways from this go: from what I could tell, Knoxville, Coach Summitt, and Holly Warlick are key figures for her, and she has a lot of fond memories of her time here. As far as ambassadors go, we could be doing far worse.