She sat at the end of the bench, watching as Team USA’s lead increased from double-digits in the first quarter to 17 by halftime and 23 before her name was called halfway through the third quarter.
The 2016 Olympics are a far different experience for Duncanville High School alum Tamika Catchings, who starred for the American women’s team in Athens, Beijing and London. As she bids goodbye to the international stage in search of a fourth straight gold medal, Catchings, 37, called her newest role the most challenging of her career.
“It’s not an easy role for anybody when you look at it,” she said after Team USA’s 103-63 win over Spain on Monday. “Especially coming from your respective team where you’re that go-to person.”
The former Panther, who led Tennessee to the NCAA national championship in 1998 and the WNBA’s Indiana Fever to the league title in 2012, played a team-low eight minutes Monday, and was the only American held scoreless in the rout. She’s averaging just two points, two rebounds and 1.5 assists in 11 minutes through Team USA’s first two games.
That’s a far cry from the past three Olympics, in which Catchings started all 24 games, averaging 6.5 points and 4.7 rebounds in nearly 20 minutes a game.
But Catchings said Monday she has found peace with her new role, serving mostly as a team motivator and teaching the ropes to first-time Olympians Brittney Griner, , Breanna Stewart and Elena Delle Donne.
“We’re in this for the ultimate goal of being able to win gold,” she said. “And you’ve got to be a selfless person to be in that situation.”
Catchings’ selflessness hasn’t gone without notice. Griner, a 25-year-old former Baylor star and now with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and one of the few first-time Olympians to start under head coach Geno Auriemma, called Catchings “crucial” to the Americans’ success.
“She has more experience than anyone on this team, and she’s very humble,” Griner said. “It’s an honor to play on the same team as her.”
“Always positive, always encouraging,” added Delle Donne, the WNBA’s 2015 MVP who plays with the Chicago Sky. “Tamika is a great teammate.”
Auriemma said he understands Catchings’ struggle, but believed the 10-time WNBA All-Star’s role was still significant enough to bring her back in 2016.
“All that she’s doing off the court is just as important as what somebody’s doing points, rebounds and assists-wise,” he said.
That’s just fine for Catchings, who said she planned to celebrate the team’s first break from Olympic basketball on Tuesday night, leaving the team’s luxury cruise ship to check out the Olympic Village. As part of her farewell Olympic tour, Catchings said she hoped to do more in Brazil than just play basketball, unlike previous Olympics.
“That’s what the Olympic experience is all about,” she said. “I think I’d probably regret it if I didn’t do any exploring.”
Catchings and the Team USA women return to action at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday against Serbia.