Tamika Catchings (right) said in an interview with Swish Appeal that she is excited to be back with her Team USA teammates this weekend as they train in Seattle, but is well-aware this could be her last time donning the jersey. Photo by Marek Grzesiuk.
It might be an overstatement to say that Tamika Catchings is entirely disinterested in discussions about Baylor Lady Bears star Brittney Griner's decision to withdraw her name from consideration for the 2012 USA women's basketball team or whether there's any UConn favoritism on the roster that was selected.
But it's evident in talking to her that those discussions that tend to be lively message board discussions among women's basketball fans are considerably less significant to Catchings than the ultimate goal this summer in London: winning a gold medal.
"We are about to go up against countries that have literally had four years of practice with each other and we haven't," said Catchings in an interview with Swish Appeal yesterday morning on her way to Seattle. "The biggest thing we need to focus on is just using the time that we have to get accustomed to playing with each other. And I think that the benefit that we do have is that most of us have played with each other whether it's through the World Championship games or through the WNBA or overseas or one of the other USA teams. So I think that's the benefit we do have...knowing each other and knowing the game and what each other can bring to help this team to reach our goal, which is to win another gold medal."
This goal of this brief weekend trip to Seattle for Catchings and her 11 teammates is to make up for some of that lost time relative to what other countries have spent - and will spend - to prepare for the Olympics. To say that they'll be able to establish and maintain enough chemistry or momentum to enter the Olympics at peak form might be foolish but at the very least this is a chance to get their feet wet and take some initial steps toward the ultimate goal of winning gold in London.
Although only six of the 12 players currently on the team also competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics - Catchings, Seimone Augustus, Sue Bird, Sylvia Fowles, Candace Parker and Diana Taurasi - all but two played in the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Czech Republic, where Team USA clinched an automatic berth in this year's Olympics.
Catchings definitely sees those past experiences - in addition to experiences playing together and getting to know one another in the WNBA - as an asset. But she also sees this as a time to incorporate the two players who weren't there in 2010 and mentally prepare themselves for USA basketball coach Geno Auriemma's system.
"Even looking at the World Championship team there was a few players that were different that are now here on this Olympic team," Catchings said. "So this is a first opportunity and I think that they wanted us to get together before we actually get into July and back into training camp. I think that it helps Geno as far as the standpoint that most of the players are Connecticut players so they've been through his system and really it's just going to be kind of getting everybody up to speed with kind of getting back into that mindset of running his offense and the different defensive principles that he put in with the Olympic team."
As Catchings gets into the swing of this first opportunity of to practice with the 2012 Olympic team, its broader significance in the context of an outstanding career might not be immediately evident. Yet despite all of her accomplishments on and off the court - including finally winning a WNBA MVP in 2011 - this particular Olympics takes on special significance because Catchings is well aware that this could be her last.
Turning 33 this July, Catchings isn't able to entirely ignore a player like Griner, who is obviously a front-runner to eventually represent her country; at some point, Catchings' time will pass and the next generation will take over.
"It's significant for me because I'm looking at this opportunity as probably my last one with the Olympic team," said Catchings. "And not saying it will definitely be the last one, but I look at the players that are coming out of college and the young players that are even in the league. And I'm grateful for the opportunities that I've had to represent my country and be in the position that I am but, you know, when I look at these younger players I'm like, 'Man, in order for one of them to make the team, somebody has to come off the team.' And just from that standpoint, it's like, I don't know where I'll be in four years. I don't know if I'll still be in this shape, still playing in the WNBA, or whatever the case may be. Like I do hope I am, but to what level I don't know.
"So looking at that and then of course looking at now this is my third one and I started in as the baby on the team and here I am now the oldest."
Yet just as the seven-time WNBA All Star plays like someone who looks like she's still just out there trying to earn minutes in the rotation, Catchings hasn't lost that fundamental joy that comes from doing that thing she loves. It comes through in her voice while talking to her and how she sums up a hectic schedule before jumping into the WNBA season.
"Even though I feel young and I'm still young it's just-," she said before a pause. "I'm excited. I'm excited to get in and I'm excited about getting to practice tonight and everybody just getting together and getting back that feeling of being around one another and just seeing what we can accomplish together."
Regardless of whether this ends up being Catchings' last, we can expect her to leave everything out there on the court as one more example of the competitiveness that has made her so great.