Tamika Catchings honored to join Pat Summitt in Hall of Fame

11:29 PM ET

Mechelle VoepelESPN.com

CloseMechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

Tamika Catchings was stunned to realize she will be just the second Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee with ties to the Tennessee Lady Vols.

“I looked at my husband and said, ‘That can’t be right,'” Catchings said Sunday on a Zoom conference call as she discussed Saturday’s Hall of Fame announcement.

But it is: The other was her late coach, Pat Summitt, who was inducted in 2000.

“We all know what Pat means to us,” Catchings said. “I’ve talked so many times about her impact on me, the city of Knoxville, the state of Tennessee, women’s basketball, basketball in general.”

Summitt died in 2016 from the effects of early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type. She won 1,098 games and eight NCAA titles in her time as Tennessee’s coach. One of the most special seasons was 1997-98, when Catchings was a freshman and the Lady Vols went 39-0 in winning their third consecutive national championship.

“I just remember how nervous I was the first time she came to Duncanville, Texas, for one of my recruiting visits,” Catchings recalled. “She talked, after the fact, about, ‘You were that kid that I had to have.’ And I would question, ‘Why me?’ She said, ‘You just have that drive and determination, that ‘it’ factor of never backing down.'”

That’s something Catchings shared with another 2020 Naismith inductee, the late Kobe Bryant. They had been friends since childhood in Italy, where their fathers both played basketball professionally. Catchings said Sunday she was trying to think of Bryant’s induction as a happy thing, despite the sadness of his loss, along with his daughter Gianna and seven others in a January helicopter crash near Los Angeles.

“I know he’s looking down on us with a big smile,” Catchings said. “I remember us even as kids, that we were so passionate, there was a drive about us.”

Catchings played in one other Final Four for Tennessee, in 2000, when the Lady Vols lost the championship game to UConn. An ACL injury cut short her senior year, and she didn’t get to play in her last NCAA tournament, finishing her college career averaging 16.6 points and 7.9 rebounds.

Then she was taken No. 3 in the WNBA draft by the Indiana Fever, behind Australia’s Lauren Jackson (No. 1 to Seattle) and Georgia’s Kelly Miller (No. 2 to Charlotte). Jackson was a three-time WNBA MVP and a two-time league champion with the Storm and, along with Catchings, is part of 2020 Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame class. However, they won’t be inducted until June 2021 in Knoxville, Tennessee, because the ceremony was postponed by the coronavirus pandemic.

While the Storm taking Jackson wasn’t a mistake, in retrospect, few could argue that the Sting didn’t err in passing on Catchings. Miller had a long career, spending 12 seasons with seven WNBA teams, averaging 7.1 points. But Catchings became a legend in 15 seasons in Indiana, averaging 16.1 points and 7.3 rebounds and winning the 2011 league MVP award and the 2012 WNBA title.

The Charlotte franchise folded after the 2006 season, and Catchings wonders what her career would have been like if she had been drafted there. She retired in 2016, and she is now the Fever’s general manager, preparing for the WNBA draft on April 17. She said she considers herself “an adopted Hoosier.”

But a part of her heart will always be in Knoxville, too. Catchings talked about how Summitt, along with developing her as better all-around basketball player, also helped her come to terms with being hearing-impaired. She had been diagnosed with hearing loss when she was 3, but Catchings resisted wearing hearing aids because other children made fun of her.

“My freshman year in college is when I accepted the fact that I had a hearing disability,” Catchings said. “Up until then, I was ashamed of it and wished God didn’t make me this way, and I could fit in and be like everybody else.

“Pat helped me see, ‘One day your story could help impact thousands, maybe millions of people.’ And it has. I do a lot of speaking engagements. Off the court, it’s shaped me, but even on the court. It’s given me that relentlessness.”

Catchings was asked how Summitt would react to her becoming a Naismith Hall of Famer.

“She would put her arm around me and just say, in that drawl, ‘Catch, I’m just so excited, I’m so proud of you,'” Catchings said. “I think she would be most proud of the accomplishments off the court. We’d talk about that.

“I think being the second person from Lady Vol history to be inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame … I could see her crying. I haven’t seen Pat cry that often, but I could definitely see that being a tearful conversation.”

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