UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Tamika Catchings didn’t want to get sentimental thinking about her final All-Star Game.
Catchings, who announced last fall that 2016 would be her final season, will be playing in a record 10th game Saturday. The WNBA usually skips the All-Star Game during Olympic years.
“I’m excited,” Catchings said. “I think everybody thought I’d be sad about this coming to the end, the last this, the last that. I’m really not. It’s time. The young players are playing so well.”
The WNBA’s future is bright with young stars Brittney Griner, Maya Moore and Elena Delle Donne, who is playing in her first game after leading the fan voting this season. Delle Donne was supposed to play in the last two All-Star contests but missed them because of injuries.
Catchings is one of the few All-Star veterans playing in the game Saturday, which features 10 first-time participants.
“They call me old. I’m not old, just wiser than you guys,” Catchings joked.
Eastern Conference coach Pokey Chatman was quiet on if anything special was planned for Catchings, but did say that everyone was aware of the situation.
“We all know what she’s brought to the game and what she’s meant to the WNBA over the years,” Chatman said.
It almost would have been fitting if last year’s All-Star Game had been Catchings’ finale. The Indiana Fever forward hit the game-winning layup in overtime to lift the East to a thrilling 125-124 victory over the West. It’s going to be tough to top that.
“That was some game last year,” Chicago guard Cappie Pondexter said. “We all know in the locker room that it’s Catch’s last one and we definitely don’t want her to go out with a loss.”
Moore knows that with Catchings leaving next year, other players are going to need to step up on and off the court.
“She’s been so much a part of what I’ve known as the WNBA,” Moore said. “In high school, I was watching her compete and being compared to her, wearing knee pads like her. She’s somebody who embodies so many things that you want the next generation to look like. The responsibility she takes off the court. She brings so much heart to the WNBA.”
Here are other things to look for in Saturday’s game:
• Replacements: Skylar Diggins, Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus are all sidelined by injury and will be missing the weekend’s festivities. The Western Conference trio was replaced by Riquna Williams, Kayla McBride and Jantel Lavender. All three are making their first All-Star appearances.
West coach Sandy Brondello said that Bird and DeWanna Bonner would start in place of Diggins and Augustus.
“Sue Bird deserves to be there for what she’s done in this league for so many years. I think it’s great recognition for her,” Brondello said. “DeWanna Bonner has done so much for the Mercury with the things that have happened to us with Diana (Taurasi) and Penny (Taylor) not being back.”
• Lack of rookies: For the first time since 2009, there will be no members of this season’s rookie class in the All-Star Game. First-year players left their mark at the game last season, with rookie Shoni Schimmel putting on a dazzling display and taking home MVP honors. Schimmel is back for a second straight year.
• First-timers: Plennette Pierson is one of 10 players making their All-Star debut. The 13-year veteran plans on soaking in all the fun of playing with the league’s best. Other first-timers include Bonner of Phoenix, Alex Bentley and Kelsey Bone of Connecticut, Marissa Coleman of Indiana and Stefanie Dolson and Emma Meesseman of Washington, as well as the replacement trio. It’s the most since 2011, when there were a record 11 All-Star newbies.
“It’s so great getting a chance to play in front of my home fans in my first game,” Bentley said. “Hopefully we’ll put on a great show for them.”
• Halfcourt heave: Dolson stole the show in practice by hitting the halfcourt shot, on her third try, and winning the $100 prize. Dolson gave the money to a young fan who had offered an extra dollar as incentive to hit the shot. Later, when the East put on an impromptu dance party, Dolson made another shy young fan comfortable by dancing with him in the middle of a player’s circle.