Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Catchings hopes to play in Olympics

INDIANAPOLIS — Tamika Catchings won’t rush back from a major foot injury for the start of the WNBA season, instead focusing on playing in the Olympics in Beijing.

The Indiana Fever forward missed the final 13 regular-season games last season after injuring her left foot. She returned for the playoffs, then tore her right Achilles’ tendon in the Eastern Conference finals and spent the entire offseason rehabilitating.

She doesn’t expect to play when the Fever open the regular season at home against Washington on May 17, but the U.S. national team member plans to be ready for the Olympics in August. She’ll have to prove she’s healthy to make the final roster.

“It’s definitely something I feel like I can be ready for,” Catchings said. “That is why, on the front end, we’re kind of taking our time. I want to get back and get back to the team and get back into playing shape and hope to be playing 100 percent by the Olympics. Hopefully, before that.”

Catchings is a five-time WNBA All-Star and was defensive player of the year in 2005 and 2006. She averaged 16.6 points and a career-high nine rebounds last season.

She said she’s at best 80 percent right now.

“We have time,” she said. “That’s what everybody keeps saying. I’m just trying to use it wisely.”

After the Olympics, Catchings expects to help the Fever during the stretch run as they fight for their first WNBA title. She doesn’t have to hurry back at the beginning of the season because the Fever traded for Katie Douglas in the offseason.

Douglas, who can play both shooting guard and small forward, is a former two-time WNBA All-Star and a three-time member of the all-defensive team. She averaged 17 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists for the Connecticut Sun last season.

The Fever gave up former All-Star Tamika Whitmore as part of the trade to get Douglas, but Catchings said the versatile 6-footer provides a much-needed perimeter presence. Douglas averaged two 3-pointers per game last season.

“We’re really excited,” Catchings said. “Obviously, losing Miko (Whitmore), it was a big loss for us, but I think getting Katie is a gain for us. She’s a great shooter, and that’s something we’ve struggled with, is having the consistency with someone to be able to score other than myself. We expect that from her, to come in shooting and bring a different aspect to our offense.”

Instead of getting familiar with her former rival as a teammate, Catchings is working out by spending time in the swimming pool, riding a stationary bike and doing individual drills. Catchings, known for being a tireless and intense player, is not worried about conditioning.

“When you’re used to being in shape, you kind of know how to get back into shape,” she said.

She wishes she could be a bigger part of this new-look Fever squad during preseason practice, which started Monday, but early regular-season games aren’t as important as representing her country and winning a WNBA title. Catchings took the U.S. loss to Russia in the world championship semifinals in 2006 personally, and she’s motivated to make up for that loss.

“We need to go in there and take care of business,” she said.

For the U.S. to do that, Catchings feels the newer players need to emphasize doing the little things she’s always taken care of as the team transitions from older to younger players.

“My role was to be a defender, to rebound, to do all the dirty work,” she said. “That’s the thing that we lack from the new team. That’s something we need to focus on. We need to figure out what role everybody needs to play and everybody needs to accept it so we can win this gold medal.”

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