This marks the 30th anniversary of USA TODAY recognizing the nation's top high school athletes and we've been digging into the archives to check in with American Family Insurance ALL-USA honorees from the past three decades. Today, we catch up with 1997 ALL-USA girls basketball first team player Tamika Catchings of Duncanville, Texas, who was a four-time All-American at Tennessee, a seven-time WNBA All-Star forward with the Indiana Fever, MVP of last year's league finals and President of the WNBA Players Association.
MORE: American Family Insurance ALL-USA Homepage
Tamika Catchings had one of her best seasons in 2012, averaging 17.4 points and 7.6 rebounds to lead the Indiana Fever to the WNBA title. Despite those numbers, there's another number she can't ignore — she turns 34 next month. To continue to play at the highest level, Catchings is making one concession to age as she plans to skip playing overseas after the WNBA season, giving her body a chance to heal.
She's also starting to think about what she would like to do after her playing career is over.
"I'm always very vocal about what I want to do," Catchings said. "I want to be a general manager in the WNBA. That's what I really want to do. I've talked to our general manager (Kelly Krauskopf, the Fever's CEO and general manager) and (Phoenix Mercury president and general manager) Ann Meyers and (former NBA general manager) Pat Williams about how I can do that. I would also like to be an ambassador for the WNBA."
Being a good ambassador for the league is something Catchings says she learned from watching her father, Harvey Catchings, who played in the NBA for 11 seasons.
"My dad and my mom did a good job that any time we did community events, we all went as a family," Catchings said. "It was one of those things we had to do. It's also something I learned a lot from Pat Summitt when I was at Tennessee. When I was drafted (in 2001), I had to sit out my first year rehabbing a torn ACL that I got my last year of college. I didn't just want to do my rehab (with the Fever) and then go home, so I got involved in a lot of community activities. From there, that sparked a lot of things."
Catchings has run a basketball camp in Indianapolis for 13 years, and in 2004, all of her various community projects were put under her Catch The Stars Foundation, which is geared toward youth programs in Indianapolis. Her off-court work runs the gamut from being an NBA/WNBA ambassador for Sanofi's Dribble to Stop Diabetes campaign, to traveling to Thailand as part of the State Department's Council to Empower Women and Girls Through Sports.
Her community involvement hasn't gone unnoticed. At a recent Mayor's Luncheon in Indianapolis, Catchings was surprised to find out that a parking lot in Thatcher Park in West Indianapolis will be renovated into a basketball court named for Catchings.
Few athletes have won consistently at as many levels as she has. Catchings won state high school titles in girls basketball and girls volleyball at Stevenson (Lincolnshire, Ill.) and the 1996 state girls basketball title at Duncanville, Texas, where she moved her senior year. She played on the 1997 NCAA championship team at Tennessee and on three Olympic basketball championship teams, but it wasn't until last season that she got her first WNBA title. President Barack Obama honored the WNBA champions at the White House on Friday.
"I think it comes as a perfect time as far as the frustration from the past couple of games (the Fever are off to a 1-5 start)," Catchings said.
Tamika Catchings, left, presents President Barack Obama with an autographed basketball during a ceremony at the White House last week. / AP
She could easily be a tour guide at the White House. She served on a mentoring panel at the White House in March during Women's History Month and she met President Clinton after Tennessee won the NCAA title in 1998. Outside of the Oval Office, she attended President George Bush's State of the Union address in 2004, worked with Michelle Obama on the First Lady's Let's Move! tour in 2012 at a stop in Iowa and even refereed a three-on-three game in Kokomo, Ind., in 2008, when Obama was running for president.
"There was one kid who got pretty close to fouling him," Catchings said. "We had to kind of pull him to the side. 'You do not want to be the one who leaves the court in handcuffs!'" she said with a laugh.
Catchings' ability to focus while multi-tasking may be aided by something others may view as a disability. She was born with reduced hearing and has worn hearing aids most of her life.
"I don't really use them when I'm playing anymore because I sweat so much," she said. "It has caused me to be more observant to all the things that are going on around me on the court. From a defensive perspective, it has kind of helped. You anticipate what's going to go before it happens. I would say it's harder for me when we're in huddles or even when we're at different events where there's a lot of noise. That's harder for me than the actual games."