No slowing down for globe-trotting Catchings
Tamika Catchings is one of those players who somehow manages to do it all.
Not only has she led the Indiana Fever in scoring, rebounds, assists and steals in each of her four seasons, but the former four-time Tennessee All-American and 2000 Naismith Player of the Year is equally as productive off the court, receiving the WNBA's Community Assist monthly award five times.
Now, it's one thing to balance all those commitments when she's at home in the United States. But it's not quite so easy when she's playing overseas -- first in Russia and then in South Korea.
Prior to joining Spartak Moscow of the Russian Federation League last fall, Catchings already was scheduled to host a pair of clinics in Indianapolis and at her camp in Mount Pleasant, S.C. So, for three consecutive weekends, she had to take a 10-hour flight from Moscow to New York and then board a connection from New York to Indianapolis. Door-to-door, that adds up to more than 11 hours of travel time -- all to run a three-hour clinic.
"It was tough at times, but nonetheless worth it to see the smiles on the kids' faces," Catchings said via an e-mail exchange facilitated by the WNBA's media-relations staff. "I had a great time, they had a great time and to me that's all that mattered."
Fortunately, Catchings' transcontinental experiences were mostly drama-free.
"The only mishap that I've had other than having to literally run in the airport to catch a flight was having to buy another ticket on another airline at a different airport," she said. "Where else but in New York City? Oh yeah, I also missed one of my flights back to Russia. That was craziness! But the traffic was worse than I expected on a Sunday afternoon."
And now that Catchings is back in Seoul, South Korea, playing for Woori Bank Hansae, the Women's Korean Basketball League team she helped guide to the summer and winter championships in 2003, she's still in clinic mode -- this time on the local front. She recently played host to a basketball camp for about 70 middle school students with some of her WKBL teammates in Seoul.
"Not only did it bring me and my teammates closer together, but it gave us the opportunity to connect with some future WKBL players," Catchings wrote in her Web site diary. "We taught everything from ballhandling skills to the right techniques for shooting. We also played a few games. Not only did the kids have a blast, me and my teammates enjoyed it, too."
Catchings is having a great time playing in the six-team WKBL, as well. Although none of her Fever teammates are competing in Korea, there's at least one WNBA player on each team, including Tina Thompson, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Kayte Christensen, Katie Feenstra and Alana Beard. The WKBL plays 20 regular-season games (about three per week) followed by the playoffs.
Catchings -- who's averaging 25.8 points, 14.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 3.1 steals through 13 games -- said the level of competition in Korea is "very good."
"The game is different over here, of course, but all in all, it's basketball," she said. "There is an American player on each team, which kind of makes it tricky at times [and] all the Americans pretty much guard one another regardless of what position you are! That's what makes it fun, though -- the challenges."
Although the appeal of playing overseas varies from player to player, Catchings says she loves learning about a new culture and the opportunity to play basketball year-round.
"The relationships and bonds that you build wherever you go are something that you will always have," she said. "I really enjoy coming back to Korea and seeing all of the familiar faces from before. Plus, for me, this was where I began playing my overseas ball."
There are also the financial considerations. With the average WNBA salary now around $45,000 a year, going overseas provides much-needed extra income.
"I would say for those who don't really know what they would do in the U.S. during the offseason, this is the way to go," she said. "As players we have to have a second job to make a comfortable living. If you don't, it's definitely a struggle."
When she's not playing or running clinics, Catchings loves exploring Seoul with her roommates: her best friend from home and her godson.
"We just started using the subway, so Seoul better watch out for us now!" Catchings said. "There's no telling where we'll end up!"
She's also becoming more familiar with local customs and is learning to appreciate the cultural differences between Asians and African-Americans.
"For the most part, they are all very cordial," Catchings said. Then she laughs and adds, "Other than the blatant stares, the constant pointing and laughing, I feel very comfortable! For real, though, the people are all nice to us and they make us feel welcome."
That's true in most places, but not all. Like locker rooms.
"To take showers after the games, we shower in bath houses," Catchings explained. "Imagine me at 6 feet, 2 inches on a good day, walking into a room full of open showers and spas among only Korean women. Needless to say, everyone stops whatever they are doing to look at me.
"It was a little uncomfortable in the beginning, but I have to take showers, too!"
Miki Turner is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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