From Gold to Grind

The women’s Team USA squad cruised through the group stage. Then, they defeated Japan by 46, France by 19 and Spain by 29 en route to a gold medal on Aug. 20. A perfect 8-0. The gold medal celebration was brief as it’s back to the hardwood this weekend for the WNBA’s biggest stars.

For the Indiana Fever’s Tamika Catchings, it’s the end of a 20-year adventure with USA Basketball; a golden sidebar to a Hall of Fame career that she took time to remember in a blog earlier this week.

“This trip to Rio has been a surreal one in thinking of the finality that it represents,” Catchings wrote. “At the beginning of the WNBA season everyone wanted to talk about what it would feel like playing in my last WNBA season and going through my last Olympics… I feel a proud sense of closure.”

Closure with USA Basketball, but she’s not done yet. After a month-long hiatus, Catchings returned home this week with gold around her neck and a chip on her shoulder. It was a fitting goodbye on the Olympic stage for the WNBA’s second all-time scoring leader, but 10 games remain for the 12-12 Fever and Catchings knows there’s work to be done.

“It was great to go get the gold,” Catchings said. “Now we’ve got to focus. We have 10 more games to get into the playoffs and put ourselves in position to win a championship.”

It’s been more than five weeks since the entire Fever roster has been together on the court. Indiana played its best basketball of the season in early July. Five of the last six games ended in victory. Then came Rio, culminating in a fourth gold medal for Catchings in her fourth appearance on the Olympic stage.

Catchings averaged 13.5 points and five rebounds per game during that six-game spell prior to Rio. Indiana capped the first two-thirds of the season with three straight victories against Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta; the No. 1 team in the West and the top-two Eastern Conference squads.

The long break could make it challenging to continue that momentum. Indiana plays host to Washington, Phoenix and New York in a three-game home stand over the next six days to try and pick up where they left off.

“You don’t have a choice,” Catchings said when asked how quickly she can flip the switch back to WNBA action. “Coming into the break, we finished strong. I’ve seen the work (my teammates) have been doing during break and now it’s time to transfer it to the court.”

Some of that work Catchings saw from Brazil included an off-the-court bootcamp session at Gym41 in early August.

Less than a week after closing ceremonies, Catchings rejoins her teammates for the closing chapter of her WNBA career.

The Fever begin the three-game home stand on Saturday, Aug. 27 against the Washington Mystics at 7 p.m. inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse. A pair of Friday home games on Sept. 7 and Sept. 16 provide another chance to catch Catchings before her final home game on Sunday, Sept. 18 against Dallas at 4 p.m.