KNOXVILLE – While listening to a compilation of video tributes to Tamika Catchings, it didn’t take long to come upon a Tennessee presence.
Right after former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy’s opening congratulations, there was Peyton Manning. The former Vols quarterback was sporting a gray t-shirt adorned with an orange Power T. He interrupted a workout to laud former Lady Vols basketball star Catchings for being inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Manning’s fashion statement didn’t say as much as his compliment.
“I’m honored to know you, honored to call you a friend,” Manning said. “Proud to be a Tennessee and Indianapolis ambassador with you. You’ve carried that role so well and wear that hat in an appropriate way.”
Catchings and Manning share the distinction of being Indianapolis sports icons. They both have long histories in the city and led their respective teams to championships. Manning quarterbacked the Colts to a Super Bowl victory over Chicago in February of 2007. Catchings led an injury-depleted Indiana Fever squad to a WNBA championship in 2012.
Like Manning, Catchings always will be associated with Tennessee. And its not just the fans who hold on tightly to her legacy. She does as well. The late Pat Summitt, who coached Catchings at UT, was at the forefront of Catchings’ thoughts in considering the Naismith honor.
“I’ve tried to emulate so much of her on and off the court, with the way that I’ve worked, the work ethic that she instilled in me in my collegiate years,” said Catchings during an interview posted on the Fever’s website.
“Off the court, being able to watch her, the way she always carried herself at such a high level. All the character qualities that you think about with Pat Summitt, I’ve tried to emulate.”
In so doing, she’s established a foundation in her adopted hometown that promotes fitness, literacy and youth development with a focus on low- to moderate-income communities in Indianapolis.
Catchings operates a tea shop/café in the city. She’s preparing for her first draft as the Fever’s general manager.
Like Summitt, Catchings has carried herself at a high level, high enough for Dungy to conclude: “To me, you’re not just a hall of fame basketball player, but a hall of Fame person in the community of Indianapolis. Can’t thank you enough for all that you’ve done for our city over the years.”
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett both expressed a similar sentiment. Holcomb went so far as to say that, well, he didn’t know what to say.
“I can’t tell you in words how proud I am of you,” he said
I wrote about Catchings the basketball player when she was inducted earlier this year into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville. The June induction ceremony has been cancelled by the coronavirus pandemic. The Naismith induction, which is scheduled for Aug. 29 in Springfield, Mass., will be a big entry on the player’s resume.
Considering the Naismith honor from an Indianapolis perspective, though, has given me a greater appreciation for Catchings the person and who she’s become since leaving Tennessee. While basketball has been a big part of the evolution, there’s now more to her than that.
There’s a lot more worth emulating.
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.