Harvey had never had that much passion for the game; he didn't even start playing until his senior year of high school, in Jackson, Miss. "I hated it at first," he says. "After eight games I quit and went back to playing the drums in the band." Yet he showed enough potential to get a scholarship to Weatherford (Texas) Junior College, launching a career that would comprise 11 seasons in the NBA with the Philadelphia 76ers, the New Jersey Nets, the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Clippers, plus a season in Italy. A rebounding and defensive specialist who never averaged more than 4.7 points in any season, Harvey doesn't see much of his game in Tamika's. "She's much more aggressive and creative on offense than I ever was," he says. "Every time I see her play, she does something I've never seen before."
As a sophomore at Stevenson High in Lincolnshire, Tamika became the first underclassman to be named Illinois' Miss Basketball, as she and Tauja led the Patriots to the 1995 state title. By the following season, after her parents had divorced, Tamika had moved with Wanda to Duncanville, Texas. Tauja stayed with Harvey in Chicago, where she led Stevenson to another title and succeeded Tamika as Miss Basketball. Not to be outdone, in '97 Tamika led Duncanville High to the Texas Class 5A title and won the Naismith Award as the national schoolgirl player of the year.
As such, she could have gone to just about any college and been the star of the team. She considered joining Tauja at Illinois to honor a pact they had made to reunite in college. In the end though, she chose five-time national champion Tennessee—where Holdsclaw was already emerging as perhaps the best female player ever—because she liked what she had seen of Summitt while watching the Lady Vols on TV: an intensity, a determination that might surpass her own. "I wanted a coach who would push me," Catchings says.
Playing at Tennessee attracted her for another reason. "She wanted a program that was going to win most of the time," says Lady Vols assistant coach Mickie DeMoss. "She cannot stand to lose." Not that Catchings has to worry too much about that. When Tennessee won the national title in March, completing a record 39-0 season, Catchings extended her personal victory streak to 79 games, dating to her senior year at Duncanville.
But there's more to Catchings than her success in basketball, starting with her radiant smile and a baby face that Tauja, on a recent visit to the Tennessee campus, can't keep her hands off of. In a study hall Tauja grabs Tamika's dimpled cheeks and squeezes. "Aren't these adorable?" she says. When discussing Tamika's nose, which was broken in practice before last year's SEC tournament, Tauja says, "It's amazing she broke it, because she doesn't have any cartilage." To prove it she flattens Tamika's nose with a forefinger.
Tauja offers other sisterly insights, such as, "She used to plan her wardrobe a month in advance. Drove me nuts." Tamika is still organized and efficient. She also continues to work hard in the classroom, where she has a B average as a sports-management major.
What spare time she has is spent composing poetry—"I like to write about love," she says—or hanging out with her boyfriend, Tennessee guard Del Baker, or seeking out friends in need of a hug. Unbidden, people in Tennessee's athletic offices testify to the warmth of a Catchings embrace. She always seems to know, they say, just when you need a lift. But then, who's more practiced at reading a face? "One day she found out it was my birthday and came in and gave me a big hug that made my day," says assistant athletic director for academics Kerry Howland. "She has a lot of love to give."
"Tamika is so genuine, there's nothing fake about her," says Summitt. "When we visited her during recruiting, I took to her right off. I told my assistants, If we don't get her, I'll be sick."
With her 18.2 scoring average (a Tennessee freshman record), 53.7% shooting percentage, 8.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists a game last year, Catchings surpassed all of Holdsclaw's freshman stats except rebounds. She was the Naismith national freshman of the year and became only the fourth freshman ever to be named a Kodak All-America.
Even on her own team Catchings is a role model. That's in part what convinced her of the merit of Summitt's suggestion last December that she consider wearing hearing aids again. The aids Catchings now wears are tiny and technically superior to her old ones; their main function is to clarify and amplify some sounds while tuning out background noise. "It's weird," says Catchings. "I can now hear myself talk."