Tamika Catchings on winning the WNBA title, Pat Summitt, and Lin Dunn

Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

Earlier this year, Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings was selected to be part of the Allstate Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Good Works Team® panel, which will recognize women's college athletes for their service accomplishments beyond their athletic careers. In a recent interview with Swish Appeal, Catchings discussed that program as well as winning her first WNBA title, her thoughts on former Tennessee Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt, her current WNBA coach Lin Dunn, and whether she'd win a game of horse with NBA All-Star LeBron James.

Can you talk about your "Catch the Stars" foundation and what made you launch it?

"Everything kind of ties together, and I know the purpose for the Allstate WBCA Good Works. Together, everything kind of falls into line. My father played in the NBA; and one of the things that I remember as a young girl was just my mom and dad making sure that we did a lot of community relations -- and community events that he had to be apart of. At Thanksgiving, [we were] giving out turkeys (and) at Christmas - giving out toys and just a lot of different things that we were involved in as young kids.

"Then going to University of Tennessee and playing for Pat (Summitt), another thing she stressed was not only being great basketball players, not only being a great students in the classroom but also the things you do in the community. Just from that -- to transition to college, to transition to the pros and starting my foundation in 2004 and now being apart Allstate WBCA team. For me, it’s just all about empowering and helping our kids get to the next level.

"When I think about my road and I think about all the people that helped me along the way -- whether I knew them or didn’t know them, just to the positive words or encouragement. If I had a bad game, somebody coming up to me (saying), ‘You’ll get it next game.’ So many people that came into my life and that’s one of the main reasons that I wanted to start my own foundation, just to provide those same opportunities for other kids."

How much does Pat Summitt mean to you personally?

"Having an opportunity to go to University of Tennessee and to be around such an amazing program, such an amazing lady -- even the assistant coaches were great. I think for me, one thing that stands out, Pat has always stressed the importance of being great women. When I look at where I’m at today, and the person I am today -- even as humble as I am, I think about her. Because you have this legendary coach, everybody is pulling at her left and right, but she always made time for us. And even now, I could call her right now and be like, ‘Hey, I just need to talk.’ And she would stop whatever she’s doing and just be there. I think that’s the thing that sets her apart from so many other coaches is just the experience I’ve had personally with her. Her wanting to see each one of her players be successful."

How did it make you feel to have Coach Summitt present when you won the WNBA Championship?

(Long pause) "I mean…gosh, I don’t even know how to explain the feeling. She came to the Atlanta series, and I remember seeing her there, it was the first round of the playoffs and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ (Because) we lost the other two games (to Atlanta) in the regular season and Pat was there for both of them. I was like, "Ok, Mickie this is bad (luck), we can’t have her here.’ And Mickie was like, ‘No, no, no, we’ll just put her in a different spot, she won’t be where she normally is’ (laughing). It was kind of funny; we won that game and ended up winning the series. And she came back for the Finals, just having her there -- I mean, Pat and I have just gone through a lot; and I’ve had a lot of ups and downs over my 11 years being with the Fever. Being able to call her, I’ve called her countless times crying about different situations -- she’s always just known what to say. To have her there, she was like, ‘I’m so proud of you’ and I was just (emotional). She’s like my second mom. Going to college and being away [from home] -- yeah to have her there, it was just a memorable moment."

You play the game so hard, with so much passion -- how did it finally feel when that buzzer sounded and you had captured your first WNBA championship?

"Woo, yes! Oh my gosh, it was like a relief! Not that I felt pressure, but you know how you just feel like weight on your shoulders? You know you want this, you been fighting for this…you know you want it…you know you want it…you know you want it. And then it’s like when you finally get it, it’s like the weight is lifted -- and you almost kind of feel like you are floating. When that buzzer sounded, and everyone is running around, it’s just kind of like; I didn’t know what to do. People were grabbing me, I’m doing interviews and it didn’t hit me until I was standing on that stage. Holly Rowe was talking and I broke down crying: yeah, yeah (smiling)."

What made you want to be apart of the Allstate WBCA Good Works program?

"I felt it was important to team up with Allstate and WBCA, from the standpoint of being able to recognize these young ladies that have done so many great things on the court; and of course are great students, but recognize them for the things they do in the community. You asked the first question about my foundation, and what I do in the community. And so it’s a direct tie for me -- just being apart of this. It might not be your starting five; it might be your 11th or 12th person on the bench or whatever the case may be. To be able to show and recognize these players for all the things [they do]. All these athletes that get recognized in the newspaper for the negative things they do, why don’t we recognize the players that are doing great things?

"There’s going to be 10 players that are selected, five will be from Division I and five will be from lower division. (They) will be named in February and it will be apart of all of the Final Four festivities. But I felt like it was an important tie for me, and just an important team that I wanted to be apart of. First off, it’s the first one ever -- and so hopefully it will be (a) successful year and that it’ll continue to grow and get bigger and bigger. Of course, I love being apart of things that just get started, but I also love being apart of positive things that it will help elevate these young ladies to new heights -- hopefully."

How has your disability helped you in touching so many youth’s lives in helping them deal with adversity?

"I think the biggest thing is when I go out and speak, I talk about all the things I go through. Like I ask questions like, ‘How many of you guys have hearing problems? How many of you guys wear hearing aids? How many of you guys have speech problems? How many of you guys have been bullied?’ Like I go through a lot of questions sometimes and after about a minute - maybe -- every single student, boy or girl, lady (or) man, I mean everybody hand is raised. And when I look around the room and it’s like we’re already connected. I say to them, ‘Because all of those things that I just asked you, I’ve been through myself.’ So already we have a connection. Basketball was the sport that I chose just off of my disability; but for somebody else it might be writing, for somebody else it might be teaching, for somebody else it might be dancing, it might be drawing -- there are so many different things.

"(Basketball) was my niche, but everybody else needs to find their own niche and the thing they are good at -- and that the thing they’re really willing to work at. I just really talk about and focus on [those things] when I’m in the community, or when I’m out and about. Our foundation is setting goals, reaching your goals (and) how to reach your goals. Setting up [a platform] for them to be able to achieve their goals -- rather than just being (generic) and saying ‘Hey, what do you want to be when you grow up? Oh you want to be a firefighter…good luck.’ [It’s important to also say], ‘How are you going to do that? How are you going to be a firefighter? What are your next steps? What are you doing in school? Just trying to help build a foundation to what they want to do in their lives."

I remember when LeBron James sent you that tweet after you won the Finals, so I have to ask this question: In a game of H.O.R.S.E with no dunking allowed, who wins?

"It’s about time (tweet) (laughing).

"Between me and Him? Ummm I don’t know. That’s a hard question. Because you are going to put it out there and either way it goes, it’s going to look bad (laughing)."

I think you’ll beat him personally. In my honest opinion, I don’t think he can shoot like you (laughing).

(Laughing hysterically) "Half-court shots only, half-court shots only."

Can you talk about how much Lin Dunn has meant to your professional career?

"The one thing with Lin and I, we kind of have had our ups and downs throughout the last few years. The thing that’s common about both of us is we both want to win, and we want to win so badly. And it’s like we want it done, like now! Like our way or no way. The one thing that we’ve really kind of evolved on, especially this past year (is) our communication with each other. Just being able to get to the nitty gritty of what we both wanted to see with this team. Of course our assistant coaches were great, Mickie DeMoss from Tennessee and having Stephanie (White) on staff. I felt like between the three of them was just a great (team). I felt like the whole feel this year was different from the past. Hopefully we can keep it going for this year coming up."

How proud are you of the job that Coach Holly Warlick has done in her first year -- replacing Coach Summitt?

"I’m so proud of her! I was probably one of the first people to hit her up when I found out about the announcement [of Coach Summitt retiring]. Holly has had a lot of offers over the years -- to go to a lot of different places and to be a head coach elsewhere. And one thing that she’s always been loyal and always been committed to Tennessee. And now with Pat being gone -- those are some HUGE shoes to fill, whoever comes in after Pat is going to have huge shoes to fill. I’m glad that Holly got the opportunity; she’s doing a great job! I know the young ladies that are there are having a good time with her. Once a Lady Vol, always a Lady Vol! And being able to bring Kyra (Elzy) back, and having her on staff, it’s just great all around."

What’s something about Tamika Catchings that a lot of fans might not know about you outside of basketball?

"I love to read, I do write poetry -- I just haven’t written in awhile. I’m an introvert/extrovert if that makes sense? I’m an introvert in that I like to do things by myself, but I’m an extrovert because when I get in certain situations. I’m very good at being able to branch out and talk to people. When I was younger, I hated talking. Now I’m like ‘Ok, I can handle it.’ And I like it (laughing)."

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