Tamika Catchings began her basketball career at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois, where she won her first state title playing alongside her sister, Tauja. In 1995, Tamika captured Ms. Basketball honors as a 15-year-old, while Tauja claimed the title a year later. The two would go down in Illinois high school basketball lore before Tamika departed for Texas with her mother as a sophomore. In Texas, Tamika continued to develop her skills at Duncanville High School as a member of state-championship winning basketball and volleyball teams. Her performance in 1997 culminated in a second Ms. Basketball award en route to becoming the first male or female in recorded basketball history to record a quintuple-double. At the University of Tennessee under the tutelage of hall of fame head coach Pat Summitt, Catchings blazed her own trail in the collegiate ranks. A member of the Volunteers from 1997 to 2001, she and her highly touted recruiting class won the 1997-98 national championship – Summitt’s only undefeated team (39-0). As a junior, Catchings garnered recognition as the Naismith College Player of the Year and Associated Press Player of the Year. The Indiana Fever selected Catchings with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2001 WNBA draft. Sidelined her first year with an ACL injury suffered at Tennessee, she began her 15-year career in 2002. She was named rookie of the year and to her first of 10 WNBA All-Star teams. Ten years later, in 2012, Catchings led the Fever to the WNBA championship. She retired in 2016 as the WNBA’s all-time leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. She won the MVP award in 2011, and this past summer her No. 24 jersey was retired.
Question: Born into a basketball family, how did you ultimately get your start in the sport that you turned into a career?
Catchings: My father (Harvey Catchings) played in the NBA, so being around him at an early age was kind of my introduction. I started playing organized basketball in the third grade. From there, my sister and I played on an all-boys team. The competitiveness from that helped. When I got to the seventh grade and decided that basketball was something that I wanted to continue to excel in, I made my first real goal to make it to the NBA and follow in my father’s footsteps.
Question: You won high school state titles in both basketball and volleyball. Why was it important for you to participate in more than one high school sport?
Catchings: I think it was huge. Soccer was my first sport and softball was my second sport. Then when I got into third grade, I started playing basketball. Gymnastics followed and then I played in the band. In junior high school, I played baritone. In high school, I ran track, played volleyball and basketball, and pretty much any sport that I could get into. My mom and dad stressed the importance of being multi-dimensional. Think about basketball, and even now, when I look at a lot of the kids who are coming in with the injuries that they have because they started focusing on one particular sport way too early. When you start overusing one particular muscle too early, something’s eventually going to wear down. The thing about being able to play multiple sports is you’re using different muscles in different sports.
Question: What drew you to participating in activities such as band given your athletic talents?
Catchings: Especially in junior high, my mom and dad wanted me and my two siblings to play a different instrument. That was a focus in our family. I played the baritone; my sister, Tauja, played the cello; and my brother played the bass. While it was something that my parents asked of us, I’m thankful for it.
Question: What were the greatest lessons that you acquired from your high school coaches that prepared you for college and beyond?
Catchings: I was blessed to have played for some great coaches like coach Frank Mattucci (Stevenson High School), and when I moved to Duncanville, Texas, to play for coach Sara Hackerott. The two of them stressed to always work hard; they both had winning programs and they knew how to get success. That lesson to work hard and to bring 100 percent of myself to the gym carried on to playing under coach Pat Summitt at Tennessee. Her big thing was that if you’re going to be here, be 100 percent here and work your butt off to be the best possible player that you can be. So being the best player that I can be is something that I’ve always strived to do.
Question: In 2000, you were recognized by the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston with the Reynolds Society Achievement Award. How were you challenged athletically by your hearing loss and what did you do to overcome it on the court?
Catchings: Early on, getting bullied, having to face that and throwing my hearing aids out was something that I had to learn to adjust and live without. I always say that I did four things. I always
sat in the front row of all my classes. I learned how to read lips. The third thing was that I would read chapters in my textbooks before I went to class so that I could be prepared if it was covered by my teacher. The fourth thing was that I would stay after class so that I could go and talk to my teachers. That was something that I felt was important. It kind of helped me fill in the blanks. Adjusting for those four things helped me with basketball. One of many great things with basketball is sign language. You see when a point guard calls a play that there is a hand signal that goes with it. I think my hearing loss also made me more observant as a player. I would always try to see things that were going on before they would happen, which is part of being a basketball player. Imagination goes a long way.
Question: As a basketball player, you are an inspiration to countless student-athletes. What’s your message to youth who find themselves dealing with a situation similar to the one that you faced during your career?
Catchings: I think the biggest thing is always knowing that anything that you dream you can do, but just realize that it is going to take a lot of hard work and there is going to be a lot of sacrifice in getting things together. Stay focused on your dreams and continue working hard for them.
Question: What was the motivation for founding your Catch The Stars Foundation?
Catchings: My sister and I moved to Indianapolis in 2001 when I got drafted. I tore my ACL during my senior year of college so, when I got here, it was a matter of asking myself, “What do you want to do with yourself. Do you just want to come to practice and watch because you’re not playing, or do you really want to get engaged with those around you?” I chose to get involved when I got here and got out in the community right off the bat. We did the first Catch The Stars Youth Holiday Basketball Camp during the first year. The next year we added the fitness clinic, then the next year we added the mentoring program and then it was just a matter of continuing to add additional programs and asking ourselves what else can we do. We then came up with the foundation. But it comes down to impact – impacting lives and making a difference, which is where the foundation came from.
Question: What do you hope to accomplish as you continue to adapt to life after your playing career?
Catchings: In my role now with the players, it’s a blessing to still be around the game. When you look at anything that you want to develop, I hope that no matter what, that I can continue to build a legacy now in helping them with their future and prepare them with what’s next.
Cody Porter is a graphic arts/communications assistant in the NFHS Publications/Communications Department.