July 15, 2008

A part of the gold medal-winning U.S. women's basketball team at the 2004 Olympics, Tamika Catchings had more than a little snag on her way to the Beijing Games. The six-year WNBA pro injured her Achilles last September, forcing her to take some time off, and she has only started four games this year for the Indiana Fever.

USA Basketball kept her on edge, but on June 10 Catchings was awarded one of the final three spots on the team. Busy balancing her WNBA and Olympic-team responsibilities, Catchings took a breather to catch up with SI.com.

SI.com: How did you react when you found out you were named to the Olympic team?

Catchings: Oh my gosh -- I was sitting at a restaurant and I got a phone call and I couldn't scream like I wanted to. I was super excited, especially after everything that transpired with me not coming back from my injury and being 100 percent healthy.

SI.com: Did you have to rally the Olympic officials to believe you could handle the Olympic team and the WNBA season with your injury?

Catchings: I didn't really speak to anyone about it -- it's more performance-wise. I remember getting the phone call after they announced the first nine and they said, "Of course we want you on the team, we want to do what's best for the team to make sure you're healthy enough first after coming back." After seeing me, different coaches and different parts of USA Basketball, everybody was just like, 'Oh my god, I can't believe you're playing like you are."

SI.com: How are you balancing preparing for the Games and concentrating on the WNBA season?

Catchings: Really right now my focus is the Fever and trying to get myself back to where I want to be. I'm back there but I'm not where I want to be. Every day I go out and first I want to be there for my teammates here and as close to 100 percent as I can be for the Olympics.

SI.com: What role are you going to play on the team?

Catchings: The focus for me is defense. We have enough scorers and we don't have the people on the defensive [side]. I know I'm not 100 percent where I was this time last year, being able to beat people off the dribble and take it to the hole. But I know what I can bring to this team is defense.

SI.com: So who is going to be the toughest to stop?

Catchings: Obviously, Lauren Jackson is the person that everyone keys on. I think Russia, Australia and even Brazil -- those will be the toughest teams that we have to face. What I keep saying is that countries have been training since the '04 Olympics to beat the Americans and win a gold medal, and the competition is a lot higher than it was then and obviously higher in '04 than it was in 2000.

SI.com: So one of your Indiana Fever teammates, Tully Bevilaqua, made the Australian team. Any trash-talking yet?

Catchings: No trash-talking yet -- we're still in the congratulations stage. She just found out last week and I just found out, so we're just kinda like, "Shhh, can't tell anybody!" I'm obviously very excited for her. After this year she plans on retiring and I know this has been her dream. But I told her, now you guys won the world championship, but I don't know about the Olympics.

SI.com: What's your relationship like with the men's team?

Catchings: I think it's a mutual respect -- in '04, we all hung out a lot because we were all in the same place. The respect level is very high, we're all playing for the same team and the same goals. We'll definitely go out and support them.

SI.com: What kind of stuff did the men's and women's teams do together in Athens?

Catchings: We went on the beach -- some of us have boyfriends, wives, girlfriends and husbands out there, so that was kind of cool interacting with one another. We did some stuff on the ship; we had a big party after we won the gold medal. We definitely had a fun time.

SI.com: What excites you the most about going to China?

Catchings: The food! I'm just kidding. The opportunity -- this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. To be able to play in one Olympics is awesome, to be able to play in two? I think the biggest thing for me is that this team is kind of like the transition team. On the '04 team, I got to play with Lisa Leslie, Dawn Staley, Sheryl Swoopes -- the older crew -- and now you get the in-between with Katie Smith, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird -- the middle ground. Then, the new players -- they will carry the torch.

SI.com: Do you think this could be the last year for Leslie?

Catchings: I haven't talked to her about that. Shoot, she's pretty much the epitome of a player that has done everything in her career, winning championships at every level. Every single award that you could win in the WNBA, she has won. So I think this is kind of the top of the top: if she could come back after having a baby this year and win a gold medal.

SI.com: What are you going to pack besides your sneakers?

Catchings: I plan to take my brother, my little sister, my nephew -- I'm packing an extra blowup mattress, definitely some extra food -- chocolate-chip granola bars. A lot of clothes and my computer -- I can't go anywhere without it.

SI.com: You plan on going somewhere fancy?

Catchings: No! Nothing like that. The cool thing about it is we can get tickets [to other events] when we go out, so we practice once or twice a day and then try to rest. Last time I was all about focusing on the Games. Not that this year will be different, but there are some people in track and field training here that I want to go see run.

SI.com: Who are you rooting for in that?

Catchings: As long as the U.S. wins, that's all I need.

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