Drafted by the Indiana Fever with the 3rd overall pick, Tamika Catchings has been a mainstay at the top of the women's game since missing her rookie season due to an injury sustained in her senior season at Tennessee. Sitting down with her and picking her brain, she references the uncertainty that was her future when she left Knoxville. "I decided to follow in my dad's footsteps," Catchings' father Harvey -- a Jackson, Mississippi native-- played 11 years in the NBA with the Sixers, Nets, Bucks and Clippers. Boy did she ever. By the time her career finishes, Tamika will have played 15 seasons in the WNBA and they will have all been with one franchise, the same one that drafted her. Catchings seemingly radiated through the phone as she spoke on her experience being able to play for one team and have the "amazing support" of not only family and friends but the Fever fans and organization.
Prior to being a top pick in the best women's basketball league in the world, Tamika put together a fantastic collegiate career in Knoxville. It all began with the "Meeks" -- a trio consisting of Lady Vol all-time greats Catchings, Chamique Holdsclaw, and Semeka Randall-- and their undefeated run to a national championship. Although that championship would be the lone of her college career, currently sitting 4th on both the rebounding and scoring charts, Catch definitely left her mark on Knoxville. The Lady Vols, 2015 version, bowed out to Maryland in a tough Elite Eight game but left Catchings proud of what she saw.
The only thing that could potentially be more synonymous with Tamika Catchings than the University of Tennessee is USA basketball. Catchings didn't mince words with what playing for her country has meant to her. "I'm excited about this last opportunity. Just to be named to the pool, is a great honor and I still have every hope and intention of making the team. But there's some great, young players that are in the mix and I've just got to continue to work hard."
Catchings said she knew last season, with all the ups and downs associated with injuries last season, while working her way back she could feel that she might be approaching the end. With 2015 three months old and the WNBA draft rapidly approaching, I asked Tamika what she looked forward to most this season and she instantly talked about the youth, in particular Natalie Achonwa. For those unfamiliar, the talented and precocious Achonwa was injured in Notre Dame's Elite Eight game her senior season and was drafted by the Fever, but spent the season rehabbing. Catchings also missed what would have been her true rookie season after tearing an ACL --the same injury that took Achonwa off the floor-- before winning Rookie of the Year the next season. Achonwa will benefit from having tempered expectations as she's not only a rookie to the professional game but recovering from a major surgery.
Not to be lost in all the basketball chatter, is the amazing difference in the community made by the players nominated and named to the WBCA Good Works team. The ten player team, composed of five players from NCAA Division I and five players from a pool of NCAA Division II, III and NAIA players will be recognized during the 2015 WBCA Convention and at the Women's Final Four in Tampa while also volunteering to participate in a local community project. Catchings spoke at length about how much she enjoys being able to share the passion for making a difference in people's lives with the players rewarded with the distinction. It is easy to see why when you look into some of the stories behind the athletes:
- Take Northwestern senior center Alex Cohen. In addition to helping lead the Cats back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1997, Cohen served as the president of a campus student organization called Autism Speaks U, for two years before moving into the vice president role so that she could shift focus to serving as the event chair for a special night held Oct.2nd called NU Goes Blue where she helped raise autism awareness and nearly $20,000 towards research. Alex's brother Aaron was diagnosed when he was three years old.
- Now let's talk about Lea Sobieraski, a senior from SUNY Geneseo, who is actively involved with the Upstate New York Transplant Services. Lea was born with a rare liver condition called Wilson's Disease that nearly took her life during her junior year. While making it a priority to promote organ and tissue donation, Sobieraski make it her mission to return to school and basketball for her senior year. Lea played in 30 games, starting five, for the 25-5 Knights.
- The youngest player on the team, Columbia sophomore Devon Roeper, wasted very little time in making a mark in her community. After her freshman year of high school, Devon went on a two-week medical missions trip to northern Uganda. Even after serving over 700 people a day in makeshift clinics, Roeper was able to convince the tribal king to donate land and then raised $15,000 to build a basketball court to help her connect with people of the Mukono community.
|2015 ALLSTATE WBCA GOOD WORKS TEAM|
|Division II, III and NAIA|
|Kathryn Clark||Jr.||G||Johns Hopkins|
|Shanteona Keys||Sr.||G/F||Georgia College|
|Lea Sobieraski||Sr.||F||SUNY Geneseo|