July 26, 2012
Former Lady Vol basketball standout Tamika Catchings is preparing to play in the upcoming Olympic Games in London, England, which she has said will be her last Olympiad. She and her USA teammates, who went 5-0 during their preparatory exhibition schedule, will begin participation in the London Games on July 28, taking on Croatia at 11:45 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time in a preliminary round contest.
Catchings, who is making her Lady Vol basketball-record third appearance at the Olympics, took a few minutes to talk about her current WNBA season, preparing for the Olympics and her thoughts on participating in such a huge sporting event on the world stage.
How do you feel about your season, for both yourself and your team (Indiana Fever), so far in the WNBA?
"I feel good. I'm excited about where we are, and I'm excited about how we're playing. We're playing pretty well. There's always something to work on. We just need to pick it up defensively, and I think rebounding is a major component that we need to get better at. I think this break will be good, so we can go away and have time to get rejuvenated to come back ready for the second half of the season."
How much does playing for the Fever in the WNBA help as you prepare to switch gears to Olympic basketball, or do you see it as two separate entities?
"I think the great thing about the WNBA is that there are a lot of players from other countries coming back and playing in our league, so that allows us to know and play against players from different countries. For most of us, we go overseas in the off-season and play, so we're also able to monitor the talent abroad, too. Right now, I have the opportunity to play in the WNBA and it prepares you, even though it's in the middle of the season, it gets us in the game rhythm and game shape. Going into the Olympic Games where we don't have much time to train as a team, but having the time to play at all helps us when we do get back together."
How similar or different are the styles of play in the WNBA versus in international competition?
"I would say in international competition, a lot more teams are focused on penetrating and kicking. There's not really a differentiation between the guards and the posts; pretty much anybody can play any position, and I think in USA Basketball, you see more designated positions. Someone's the one, the two, the three. There's also a lot more versatility these days. I think overseas a lot of the game is just about penetrating, getting the ball, and taking shots, shooting it from the outside."
How special is it for you to be able to represent your country for a third time at the Olympics?
"I'm excited. This has been an awesome adventure for me, being able to play with so many great players along the way. It's an honor to be able to represent your country any time you get a chance to play. When you put that USA on, it's such a source of pride. For me, I'm looking forward to this, getting together with the team, back to training, and over to London."
How have your two previous trips helped you as you head into this Olympiad?
"Experience really helps, just from a leadership standpoint. Knowing the pressure that comes along with playing, and not just the pressure, more so the expectation. Getting out there and practicing, making sure everybody is on the same page and nobody's there for that individual glory. That has been the reason that USA Basketball has been so successful, and women's basketball in general has been as successful as we have. Everybody is playing for the common goal, which is to win."
You have said this is your third and final time. Does that place even more meaning on these Games?
"I wouldn't say there is any extra pressure for me. I think just knowing that and going out there and having truly been able to enjoy the experience knowing that this is it. It's about going out there and leaving everything on the court, not that I don't already, but I think it's just extra motivation, even in leadership styles and making sure everybody is bringing everything they're supposed to be bringing. Nobody is holding back. We're all on the same page and moving forward to where we know we need to be."
You are the first Lady Vol to make three Olympic women's basketball teams. How does that make you feel when you think about all the players who have played for Tennessee?
"It's amazing. I had never really thought about it like that. For me, it was just about the opportunities I've had and being so blessed to be in the right place at the right time. It's definitely an honor to represent not only myself, my family, the WNBA, and the Fever, but also being from the Lady Vol family."
You and Candace Parker will represent Tennessee as members of the 2012 team. How meaningful is it to share an experience like this with someone who is part of the Lady Vol family?
"It's awesome. We had the opportunity to get some time together back in 2008, and so we've just been developing our friendship. I have a lot of respect for Candace and know the ups and downs she's been through, and I've tried to be the positive mentor for her along the side, but I think it's an encouraging feeling for both of us when you know you have somebody who's gone through a lot of the experiences that you have and being able to share this and hopefully the gold medal, at the end of the day."
Team USA will be seeking to continue its streak of winning gold. How strong is the squad that has been assembled for the London Games?
"I think the best thing about USA Basketball and the team is the fact that you always have a core group that you build off of. Every interview I talk about the same thing. USA Basketball is based on core groups of players with add-in players. I know for myself and Diana (Taurasi), and even Swin Cash, we came in together on the 2004 Olympic Team, and here we are again in 2012. Having that kind of base and all of us knowing what it took to win back then and what it's going to take this time, and those who were there in 2008, can bring what they learned and help the newbies on the team like Maya Moore and all the players that weren't a part of the 2008 team. We can share the moment with them and kind of show them the ropes and what they need to do to help us win."
You had and incredible career at Tennessee. How did that experience help prepare you for the WNBA and Olympic stages?
"Just being able to play. One of the reasons I went to the University of Tennessee was that I wanted to play for the best coach who I knew could help me become a great player. I wanted to play for her and against some of the great players and with some of the best players as well. For me, it was an opportunity to take every practice and every game, every year, and learn from it. I feel like my experiences being under Pat, Holly, Mickie and Al developed me not only as a player on the court but even off the court. Being able to watch Pat and seeing everything she did with all the players over the years, you see all that she did coming out now as she's being honored by so many people. All the things she's been able to accomplish in her life."
If you could explain it, what is it like to represent your country, win gold and hear the Star Spangled Banner playing after you won?"
"It is amazing. There is no word that explains how it feels. First, being in the uniform and standing up there, knowing that we are representing not just ourselves but a whole family of Americans. We represent a whole nation, so when you win after all the things you go through together on the journey to win the gold medal, when you finally get there, you're like, `Wow.' I know, for me, I'm looking to my left and my right at all the players and coaching staff and all the USA Basketball people who help us along the way. And then you hear the National Anthem. It's crazy, because you hear the National Anthem all the time. They play it before every game as you stand there and you almost take it for granted. But over there (at the Olympics), it's amazing when you see the flag going up as the National Anthem is playing and you're standing on the podium as people are cheering and crying. The only thing that's missing are the fireworks."