Tamika Catchings: 'I'll be savoring every minute'
Tamika Catchings is blogging for espnW throughout the year. Check back in May for more from her about the WNBA and Olympic team training camps.
After the selection committee's announcement on Friday, I can officially say that I'll be on my third Olympic team this summer in London. My phone has been blowing up with calls and texts (congratulatory, thank goodness), and I'm pumped for the chance to bring home another gold.
Of course, everyone is wondering who the unnamed 12th player will be, and with her impressive performance in the NCAA tournament, all eyes are on Brittney Griner. Team USA is full of talent, but we don't have anyone her size (6-foot-8!) and strength. She'd be the first current college player in more than 20 years to make an Olympic team. I can't imagine winning a national championship, potentially winning an Olympic gold medal a couple of months later, and then returning to school as a student in the fall. Crazy! That said, there are other great competitors in the mix for that last roster spot, so it will be interesting to see what the committee decides.
No matter who fills that final spot, my advice to any new player on the U.S. squad is to know your role within the team and do it well. During my first Olympic experience in 2004, I found it wasn't easy to be a rookie. I got blamed for others' mistakes, and it wasn't long before I was thinking, "I suck! What am I doing here?" I quickly realized that I needed to focus on my defense and ability to lock people down; scoring was just a bonus. Like most learning experiences, it wasn't enjoyable at the time. But I can use what I learned the hard way to encourage younger players who may go through something similar.
When the complete team finally meets for practice in May, we'll all have to adjust to the increased intensity level of the Olympics. With so little time to train and play together (around 12 days total, including a few friendly games leading up to the Games), we have to make the most of it. Shoot, there's pressure being in the Final Four or playing for a WNBA championship (and believe me, I want one of those), but preparing to play with the whole world watching is even another step above that. We're lucky to have coaches who manage to contain that immense pressure to perform, instead of passing it on to us.
You can never be overconfident, but we'll certainly go into competition with a strong belief in our strengths as a team. We may not get much time to practice together, but we have consistency on our side. The veterans have been around for a while, and even the four Olympic rookies already named have competed with us at the world championships. It also helps to have five players on the squad who have played for Olympic coach Geno Auriemma at UConn and are familiar with his system. Perhaps our greatest strength, though, lies in our talent level. Every player brings something different to the table.
You can bet I'll be savoring every minute of my Olympic experience this time around, given that it may be my last. I won't lie: My greatest Olympic memories involve podiums and gold medals, but it's also nice just hanging out in the Olympic Village cafeteria with family and friends. If I have the time, I always try to catch some of the swimming events, as well. I've been doing pool workouts for a while now, but sadly I'm still closer to a doggy paddle than a real stroke. I have a lot of respect for the pros!
This year, much of the Catchings crew (my four siblings and eight nieces and nephews, in all) is coming along for the Olympic ride. I'm so blessed to have a family that has supported me since I first dreamed of competing in the Olympics as a little girl. Needless to say, I'm counting down the days!
Check out Tamika Catchings' previous blog, about her offseason training, here.