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How Chicago's 'street ball' helped pave Catchings' path originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Tamika Catchings is a four-time Olympic gold medalist, 10-time WNBA All-Star and NCAA and WNBA champion.
But Catchings, who will enter the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday, also fondly recalls the role her days at Stevenson High School and playing against some of Chicago's best high school competition played in preparing her for her future stardom.
Catchings, whose father Harvey was an NBA veteran and Bulls radio announcer, won Illinois' Ms. Basketball honors in 1995 while playing alongside her sister, Tauja, who won the award the following season. Stevenson won back-to-back Illinois state high school championships in 1995 and 1996, though Tamika finished her preps career playing in Texas.
"First off, to talk about Chicago is legendary. And no offense. I know there are a lot of people here from different cities," Catchings said at a Friday news conference in Connecticut. "But when you talk about Chicago basketball, the trash talking, the skill set, all of that, going against (Marshall coach) Dorothy Gaters and all of her teams, for me it really was the opportunities of going against such great players that helped me develop. Not just on the floor there, but let's talk about the street ball.
"So I think for me, learning how to play the game of basketball, it wasn't always in the gym. It was more in the playground and being able to go against great players that have come out of Chicago."
Catchings spoke after Kevin Garnett sang similar praises for the city he called home during his senior season at Farragut Career Academy.
"Like KG said, it wasn't just the women I played against, more than anything it was the men. They helped develop my game," Catchings said. "My father was very instrumental in making sure that we went to the gym a lot. I was in my comfort zone. No matter what I felt -- mad, sad, happy, whatever the occasion -- I was always in my comfort zone being on the basketball court."
The fact Class of 2020 members Garnett and Catchings have Chicago ties doesn't surprise Jerry Colangelo, himself a Hall of Famer and currently chairman of the body's board of governors. Colangelo played for Bloom Township High School and the University of Illinois before embarking on a lengthy basketball career that featured him working for the Bulls in their expansion season, winning Executive of the Year four times and later owning the Suns.
"I have great memories of the city of Chicago," Colangelo said at the same news conference. "I've always felt that whenever I get back, I feel at home. It's as simple as that. I spent a lot of time on the courts myself on the South Side with all the best players not only in Chicago but in the Midwest. Great memories. There were a lot of great players who came out of the city. No different than the Rucker league in New York. That's what happened on the chain nets we had on some of the outdoor courts on the South Side.
"But you learned how to survive. Not only that, but you learned how to compete. I'm not surprised by those who have come out of Chicago who have that same kind of mentality. I think that's been pretty true with some of the Hall of Famers that have come through. (Dwyane) Wade is another one. I'm sure he's going to be here some day."
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