Being a veteran of USA Basketball makes Tamika Catchings a seasoned traveler. Yet the former Tennessee women’s basketball All-American stood before an open suitcase last week feeling very much like a rookie.
“I’ve never packed for a vacation,” she said. “Every time I’ve ever left before was because of basketball.”
She had just unpacked from a trip to Czechoslovakia, where she played her usual blue-collar role in helping the U.S. win the FIBA World Championship. It was her second gold medal at the event and her third medal overall. She helped the U.S. rebound from a bronze-medal showing in 2006.
In a transition era for USA Basketball, Catchings and former University of Connecticut stars Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi constitute the team’s veteran core. At the Worlds, Catchings was virtually surrounded by Huskies with six former or current players on the roster and UConn’s Geno Auriemma the national team coach. Catchings said that team chemistry was a team strength.
“(Auriemma) told me, ‘You know you’ve got it hard. You’re going to have to go back to Tennessee and somebody is going to ask you what your experience was like and you’re going to have to tell them: It’s not so bad,’ ” Catchings said.
At age 31, the 6-foot forward hears another question more often lately.
“Everyone asks, ‘How much longer are you going to play,’ ” Catchings said. “I don’t know. I feel good right now.”
She’s coming off an WNBA season in which she averaged 18.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game for the Indiana Fever and was a top candidate for the league’s MVP award, which was won by Seattle’s Lauren Jackson.
Catchings became the first player in league history to earn four Defensive Player of the Year awards, and she’s the only player to be named to the All-Defensive first team all six seasons.
Catchings doesn’t desire individual honors as much as she does leading the Fever to a league championship.
“I feel like the almost kid,” she said. “At what point do things materialize. The ultimate goal for any player is a championship. I’m not really into the MVP thing.”
While she keeps in touch with Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, Catchings conceded that it’s been several years since she visited Knoxville. Apparently that’s about to change. Some sort of event is in the works, but Catchings wouldn’t divulge the details.
She will pack accordingly.