Catchings, White to celebrate together at farewell ceremony
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Indiana president Kelly Krauskopf initially built the fledgling Fever around home-state star Stephanie White.
Turns out, the hard-working rookie she drafted in 2001, Tamika Catchings, emerged as the face of the franchise.
On Sunday, the two most iconic players in Fever history - one now the coach - will say farewell to the WNBA in their final regular-season home game. Coach White is taking over the Vanderbilt program and Catchings is retiring.
''I think they had an equal impact. What both leave behind and have meant to this franchise ...'' Krauskopf said, pausing. ''Steph was the very first player I went out and got to start this franchise. They were the cornerstones of this franchise.''
The game Sunday against Dallas won't be their last. Indiana has already clinched a playoff spot, and these two still envision going out after a victory celebration.
Regardless, it seems fitting that White and Catchings, who have shared so many moments and memories over the past 15 years, are leaving together.
It's hard to fathom just how much these two have meant to Indiana.
Catchings' legacy has been well-documented on the court. She started Friday night's game at Minnesota ranked No. 2 in WNBA career scoring (7,353 points), sixth in assists (1,487) and 12th in blocks (384), She already held the league record for steals (1,071) and needed just three rebounds to pass all-time leader Lisa Leslie (3,307).
Those numbers only tell part of the tale of the 2011 WNBA MVP, 2012 Finals MVP, five-time defensive player of the year and 10-time All-Star, who spent most of her career being cited as the top choice front-office executives would build a franchise around and the top choice of league players as the teammate they wanted.
Before arriving in Indianapolis, the shy, hearing-impaired kid went from Texas prep star to four-time All-American and part of an undefeated national championship team at Tennessee. Krauskopf took her No. 3 overall in the 2001 draft even though she knew Catchings would miss that first season with a torn ACL.
Her growth as a player and a person was equally impressive. She started a foundation to help young people achieve their goals, became the president of the players' union, wrote a book, interned at the NBA and got married in February.
The four-time Olympic gold medalist could have enjoyed a WNBA farewell tour in her final season, but instead turned it into a legacy tour in which she gave something back to her fans.
''I don't need anything and basically I don't want anything. It only seemed right,'' Catchings said. ''It was about the kids being there and seeing how excited they were. The thing I enjoyed most was being able to spend time with each kid in the autograph line and being able to talk to them. I remember one place this boy yelled across the gym at me and I looked up at him and you could just see his face. He was so excited - and that's a boy.''
Catchings calls her foundation, Catch The Stars, and the impact it's had on other people's lives her proudest achievement. On Friday, Catchings said her teammates donated $50,000.
Inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse, so many more people are proud of the star.
NBA All-Star and new Olympic gold medalist Paul George bought 5,000 balcony tickets for Sunday's game, which were distributed to fans on Friday. Krauskopf talks about the handwritten notes she keeps in a desk drawer from children and parents thanking Catchings for speaking at their school, in their community or just being a role model.
But that's nothing compared to actually being on the court with her.
''As a teammate, you want to be better for her,'' White said. ''I will never forget one play, I don't remember where we were, and I missed an assignment on the defensive end, and she said `Come on, Steph.' I felt like I let her down.''
The truth is, White was pretty good herself.
She was the small-town star who made it big - going from 1995 Gatorade national player of the year and 1995 Indiana Miss Basketball at nearby Seeger High School to Purdue, where she won a national championship in 1999. Then onto the WNBA, where she handed over the reins of Fever team leader to Catchings so White could start a coaching career.
When White returned as an assistant in 2011, Catchings was still excelling. The next year when the Fever finally captured their first WNBA title, they celebrated together.
Now with the 39-year-old White bound for Vanderbilt and the 37-year-old Catchings eager to trade the hot and cold tub treatments for a little travel and some extra rest, the two players Krauskopf put in place all those years ago are ready to say goodbye together.
''I've noticed her (Catchings) this year, just watching as much as she can, taking it all in. I'm trying to do it, too, because I keep thinking this will be so odd next year,'' Krauskopf said. ''Tamika is the cornerstone of this franchise, and Steph has been here off and on from the beginning. This is our team's foundation.''