Looking for basket belles and boys

WNBA and international star Tamika Catchings at a basketball clinic in Mumbai.-PTI

“The junior NBA is developing basketball with the Reliance Foundation. Hopefully, some day a boy or girl (from India) will be able to participate in the NBA or WNBA,” basketball star Tamika Catchings tells G. Viswanath.

Tamika Catchings is 35 and an American basketball player who has won Olympic gold medals at Athens (2004), Beijing (2008) and London (2012) and World Championship gold medals at Nanjing (China) in 2002 and at Karlovy Vary (Czech Republic) in 2010. Since 2002 she has been playing for Indiana Fever in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).

Tamika was in Mumbai and Chennai recently to promote the junior NBA programme and spoke to Sportstar in Mumbai as to how she got introduced to the sport, what winning medals means and about WNBA.

Excerpts:

Question: Three Olympic team gold medals, two World Championship Gold medals. What does it mean to an American sportswoman?

It’s all a result of a lot of hard work and opportunity to play at the highest level of basketball; in the WNBA and in the Olympics for USA. My father, Harvey Cathings, played in NBA for 12 years; so I was born into a basketball family. I practiced and practiced and got better. It allowed me to go to college and play for the national team. It’s awesome to win three Olympic gold medals and two World Championships. It’s amazing to be able to represent your country for such a long time. It’s an opportunity not only to compete, but to come home with three gold medals. Not many people get to win one, but to win two or three is amazing.

How does the WNBA compare with the NBA, which is followed all over the world?

The WNBA is a fairly young league; it’s 18 years old, whereas the NBA is fifty years plus. We are considered one of the best women’s professional leagues in the world.

Tamika Catchings reaches around for a steal against Canada's Krista Phillips during a women's basketball game at the 2012 Summer Olympics. The US won the women's gold, beating France in the final.-AP

A lot of women look for the opportunity to play in the league and make their dream come true. I don’t think there is any other league that one can compare with the WNBA; players from Australia, France, Brazil, and Spain are part of the WNBA.

Not many from Asia though, except for China which is ranked No. 8 in FIBA?

If you look at the grand scheme of things and all the players who come from different parts of the world to take part in the WNBA and also the nations for the Olympics, it’s been USA, Russia apart from Australia, France, Brazil and Spain.

Most Americans get drawn to basketball or may be tennis…

When I was in 7th grade I wanted to play in the NBA, because the WNBA was not around. Then when the WNBA happened, I did not want to play in the NBA, but only in the WNBA. My first sport was soccer and second was softball. I played volleyball and I played an instrument in the band before riveting my attention on basketball. My sister and I played in an all-boys team for which my dad was the coach.

You have so many firsts in the WNBA; in scores, rebounds , assists and steals…

I don’t think the ability of a player matters much; because at the end of the day what’s important is which team won matches. I wanted to win the championship with my team. The gold medals are won by a team, the WNBA titles are won by a team. Individually, the players can be as good as they can be.

What do you make of the Williams sisters — Venus and Serena; their contribution to American tennis and sport?

I am very happy for them.

What are your expectations of Indian basketball?

I am really excited about travelling the world, experiencing the local culture and also about basketball that’s played in that country. The junior NBA is developing basketball with the Reliance Foundation. Hopefully some day a boy or girl will be able to participate in the NBA or WNBA.

Indiana Fever head basketball coach Lin Dunn (right), jokes with President Barack Obama, as forward Tamika Catchings (left), looks on during a ceremony in the White House on June 14, 2013, to honour the WNBA champions. The Fever defeated the Minnesota Lynx in October, 2012, to claim its first WNBA title.-AP

But doesn’t height matter in basketball? Not too many Indian men and women fall in the 180cm group…

Well, I would look at it this way; it’s all about your heart and passion to achieve your dream. It has not happened yet, so who is going to be the first boy or girl? Keep working and learn the skills as a junior, and as you get older, you will get better and better. Looking at our junior programme here somebody is going to make it and down the road we will definitely make it happen.

The three pointers have been there for a long time; have they taken away the thrill of fast breaks and lay up shots?

You can go for the three pointers only if you are a good shooter. We have worked on the fast breaks for so long and nothing can take it away from the game.