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Tamika Catchings

No ‘I’ in TEAM

By Chad Bonham

As the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) enjoys its 13th year of existence, professional women’s basketball continues to grow in popularity with increasing fan support and greater national media exposure. League standouts such as Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes, Diana Taurasi and rookie sensation Candace Parker are slowly but surely becoming household names.

Since winning the 2002 WNBA Rookie of the Year and 2005 Defensive Player of the Year awards and finishing second in 2002 MVP voting, Tamika Catchings has made a similar impact as her superstar counterparts. Still, the Indiana Fever forward has somehow managed to fly under the radar. But while the spotlight might not always shine as brightly on her as on others, Catchings maintains a positive attitude that is strengthened by a deep-seated faith.

 “I could be mad sometimes about being one of the top players and not getting the publicity that maybe somebody else gets or not getting a deal like somebody else did,” Catchings says. “There are people like that. For me, whatever’s mine, God will provide for me. Nobody can take that away from me. So I’m going to go out and have a great time. Whatever God wants me to have, nobody’s going to be able to take that away from me.”

Catchings, 29, speaks with a rare combination of confidence and humility. It’s something she learned at a young age from her parents and that was later fortified by the legendary Pat Summitt. Playing for the University of Tennessee head coach was life changing on many accounts even though Catchings’ first exposure to Summitt was seemingly random.

“Eighth grade was the first time I ever saw Pat Summitt,” Catchings recalls. “I was flipping channels, and I saw her flash across the screen. For whatever reason, she just caught my attention. So I watched the game for a little bit, and I thought, If I ever get good enough to play for her, that would be a dream come true.

Catchings says that Summitt was everything she needed in a basketball coach at that time in her life. Catchings not only improved as a basketball player, she also learned valuable life skills. Of course, playing for the Lady Volunteers — arguably the most storied program in women’s college basketball history — provided competitive benefits not afforded to all players. Catchings took full advantage by being named All-American all four years and leading her team to a national championship and perfect 39-0 record as a freshman.

College was also a pivotal time for Catchings’ spiritual life. Although her parents had raised her and her siblings in church, it wasn’t until she endured a painful knee injury that she got serious about a relationship with Christ.

“After I got hurt my senior year in college, it seems like it became that much more obvious to me,” Catchings says. “There was a huge chunk that was missing in my life that I was filling with basketball. Basketball was my god. I couldn’t go to church because I had practice, and you lose that balance that you grew up with. So after my injury, I got back to going to church, and then one thing after another, my faith continued to grow. It is who I am, and that’s how I’ve come through adversity, knowing that I have Him to count on. It makes things that much easier.”

By 2002, Catchings was not only an established WNBA commodity but also a regular contributor on the United States National Team. That year, the star-studded squad captured the FIBA World Basketball Championships for Women in China. Two years later Catchings was a starter on the undefeated gold medal team at the Summer Olympics in Athens. The team’s achievement was a testament to teamwork and humility.

“All of us are the best players on our respective teams,” Catchings explains. “People had to put aside their differences and understand that it’s not about them. It wasn’t about me. It wasn’t about the Indiana Fever. This was about us getting together and winning the gold medal, and that’s what we did.”

Catchings hopes to be a part of the U.S. team that will compete at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. A foot injury ended her 2007 WNBA season prematurely but she is now fully recovered and enjoying yet another All-Star-caliber year.

Catchings looks for effective ways to shine the light of hope.

“Actions speak louder than words,” she says. “Conducting ourselves in a Christian way goes way farther than talking. You’ve got to talk the talk and walk the walk, but sometimes if you’re not able to talk you can still walk. I think that will have a bigger impact than standing out on the corner preaching.”

Catchings has a similar philosophy when it comes to the work of the Church. Just like the star athletes on the U.S. National Team have so often come together for a common goal — to win the gold medal — she believes the body of Christ must look past its petty disagreements and engage in teamwork as a means to fulfilling God’s plan.

“It’s just important for us to come together and unite,” Catchings says. “We need to gather as Christians. Our main goal is to praise God and to live our lives for Him and to please Him. It’s not to please man, because like it says in the Bible, if you try to please man you’re always going to be disappointed.”

CHAD BONHAM is a freelance writer based in Tulsa, Okla.

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