Dan Fleser: Tamika Catchings Was Slam Dunk For Hall Of Fame

Thursday, February 13, 2020 - by Dan Fleser
Tamika Catchings
Tamika Catchings

KNOXVILLE – Tamika Catchings took pains in creating an indelible impression during an otherwise forgettable Tennessee women’s basketball game.

Her effort didn’t involve scoring a basket or snaring a rebound. Therefore, she wasn’t leaving much room for recall.

Her resume, after all, celebrates productivity. She and former teammate Chamique Holdslaw are the only two Lady Vols to reach 2,000 career points and 1,000 rebounds.

Catchings played 15 years for the WNBA’s Indiana Fever and stands third on the professional league’s career scoring list with 7,380 points.

She was a slam-dunk honoree on Monday as one of this year’s inductees to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

Despite those achievements, my mind’s eye looks back across 21 years to a cozy old gym in Philadelphia and sees Catchings falling. Actually, she was crash landing. The then-junior forward set the unfortunate circumstances in motion by chasing headlong after a loose ball in a game against St. Joseph’s, a game UT won handily, 82-59.

Given the game’s one-sided nature, there was no need for Catchings to slide across a press row table  and hit hard on a chair and then the ground below. Imagine falling off your kitchen table and you get the picture.

I was sitting about 15 feet from the accident, covering the game as the Lady Vols’ beat reporter for the Knoxville News Sentinel. To this day, I still can recall the sound of the fall and the look on her face. Can’t help but wince and shake my head.

The moment was pure Catchings, as much as any of her other more celebrated feats. Her greatness was harnessed to a blast-furnace intensity.  I was astonished to see her quickly gather herself, bound across the table and back into the action. Silly me.

Don’t remember ever discussing that Catchings memory with my News Sentinel colleague, John Adams. He must’ve developed the same impression of her, however. He wrote with astonishment about another Catchings’ fall that occurred during a game against Mississippi State the following season at Thompson-Boling Arena. In that instance, Catchings didn’t get up.

She had suffered a torn anterior cruciate knee ligament, an injury that ended her Lady Vols career prematurely. At the time, then-UT coach Pat Summitt said, “Tamika was injured the way she plays, all out and hard on every play.”

The immediate aftermath became a fitting tribute to Catchings. A day later then-Houston Comets coach Van Chancellor said that the injury wouldn’t impact her WNBA draft stock or her career.

“She’s a 12- to 15-year player,” he said. “This is going to be an outstanding player in the WNBA.”

Nailed it.

Catchings’ UT teammates played with uncommon fury after her injury. They eagerly vied to wear her trademark headband, which was awarded after each game to the player who made the most hustle plays.

The Lady Vols rode the emotional wave until they fell hard as well. The season fizzled to a stunning conclusion with a loss to Xavier in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

In the end, an entire team couldn’t cover for the loss of one memorable player.   

* * *

Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri who covered University of Tennessee athletics for the Knoxville News Sentinel from 1988-2019. He may be reached at danfleser3@gmail.com

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