USA Basketball Book Club: Catch a Star
The purpose of the USA Basketball Book Club is to share stories from and about members of the USA Basketball family. USA Basketball does not endorse the sale or purchase of these books nor the opinions expressed in them. Catch up on previous reads: The Spencer Haywood Rule |The Mamba Mentality | Standing Tall | Sum It Up | Secret Warrior | Don’t Let the Lipstick Fool You
As recently as 2016, Tamika Catchings was thrilling fans on the basketball court, including winning an incredible fourth straight Olympic gold medal at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“Catch a Star: Shining through Adversity to Become a Champion” written by Tamika Catchings with Ken Petersen was published in March 2016, months before that gold medal and just as Catchings embarked on her final season as a professional basketball player.
Known as a lock-down defender along with her offensive prowess on the court, Catchings took an unusual route to retirement and on October 2014 announced she would be done playing after the 2016 WNBA season.
Her book is the story of her journey from childhood – when her love of basketball helped her cope with a hearing disability and bullying; through a stellar high school career that included starring alongside her sister, Tauja, as the duo won an Illinois state title in 1995; to a college career at the University of Tennessee, where she racked up awards as UT went 134-10 during her four years, including an NCAA title in 1998; through to 15 seasons with the Indiana Fever, where she was the 2011 WNBA MVP and won the 2012 WNBA Championship.
The book is compelling, and though her journey is remarkable, readers will enjoy learning not only how driven and competitive Catchings is, they also will be struck by her strength and determination in the face of hardships.
“I have to say I kind of resent it when people make the comments that I’m ‘so talented’ in basketball,” Catchings wrote. “Oh, I appreciate the compliment, but in saying that, there’s a suggestion that it’s all come naturally to me. That it’s been easy. No. Not really. I’m good at what I do because I’ve worked hard, really hard, all my life to get good. I’ve practiced hard, disciplined myself, and pushed myself beyond measure.”
Catchings’s tremendous athletic talent and work ethic may not be something everyone can relate to, but her stories of sibling bonds and rivalries and changing family relationships are universal human dynamics.
She speaks thoughtfully about her mother, father and siblings, and of times of significant change that forced her to grow and adapt. With her family, as it was with all things with Tamika, basketball was a positive for Catchings to focus on.
“With basketball, rules were the rules. I knew them and there were no questions. I could play the game and know everything would always be okay.”
Catchings first played for USA Basketball in 1996, winning silver at the 1996 FIBA Americas U18 Championship (then known as the COPABA Junior World Championship Qualifying Tournament), followed in the next summer by gold at the 1997 FIBA U19 World Cup (then called the FIBA Junior World Championship). She won her first senior-level international gold at the 2002 FIBA World Cup, and she collected bronze at the 2006 World Cup and another gold at the 2010 World Cup, in addition to her four Olympic gold medals (2004, 2008, 2012, 2016).
Playing with some of the nation’s best talent, Catchings fit her offensive game in where it was needed and continued to be a defensive force. She started every game of the 2004 and 2012 Olympic Games and 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cups.
“Success on the court depends on knowing which is which – knowing when you are the go-to and have to take the shot or when the team is made better by you passing the ball and being a team player. I think success in life is the same thing. Knowing when to ‘take the shot.’ And knowing when to be a team player.”
Catchings also always had her eye on an opportunity to find a better shot with just one more pass, and it made her teams stronger.
“No one player, no matter how talented, can be so good as to take over a game single-handedly. One person can’t beat five players on her own. And when one player begins to take over a game, her teammates usually start to stand around and watch. If you’re not careful, you can take the rest of your teammates out of the game.”
While she is speaking in terms of her experience on the court, the same principle applies to anyone disappointed in a play or outcome – dwelling on mistakes is not the way to deal with setbacks.
“I think it’s best to focus instead on what you have achieved, relish those moments of excellence when you know you did your best, and embrace the underlying talent that is your joy. Sometimes that’s hard to do, especially after a tough loss. But you just have to rise above. Fighting off the negative energy following a loss is sometimes as important as the battle during the game.”
Notably, in 2015, just one year ahead of a retirement date she set and had announced, Catchings sought out a shooting coach to re-work her jump shot. She broke her form down to the basics and rebuilt it back up, which was an incredible example of her determination to continue to get better, always, and a story that could be used to motivate young athletes (among dozen’s in Catchings’s book).
While it would not be practical to call out all of the interesting notes and connections detailed in Catch a Star, it would be remiss not to mention Catchings’s Christian faith and the role that has played in her life.
“How different my life might be if there were records and notes, if I hadn’t thrown those devices into the vacant lot, if something more had been made of the struggles. But I paid the price. I had to work harder. I had to become more diligent. I had to dig into life. And when I did so, God helped me discover tools that would not only get me through school but help me excel in my learning and then help me achieve so much in basketball. And in life.”
Inducted in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame on 2020, Catchings currently serves as the general manager and vice president of business operations for the WNBA Indiana Fever.
She also served on the 2017-2021 USA Basketball Women’s Developmental National Team Committee, helping to select athletes, coaches and staff for USA Basketball women’s high-school-aged teams.
Catchings closes out the book by acknowledging there is a lot more that she wants to accomplish – citing her charity, Catch the Stars Foundation, and possibly starting a family. The story of her second career remains to be seen.