tamika_catchings_web.jpgAP Basketball Writer

SEATTLE — Tamika Catchings was thrilled to be back on the court.

While most of her teammates on the U.S. Olympic women's basketball team spent the winter playing overseas, she was
rehabbing an injury to her right foot. Now that's she healthy, Catchings is raring to go.

She has been playing pickup basketball as much as she could but there's nothing like playing with her Olympic teammates.

“It's great to be playing again,” she said after a two-hour practice Friday at Seattle University. “It really feels good to be out here.”

Catchings, who will be playing in her third Olympics this summer in London, suffered a torn plantar fascia in the second game of the WNBA Eastern Conference finals.

The U.S. team has been forced to go with piecemeal training over the last few years because of the difficulty of getting everyone together. With the WNBA season, players playing overseas in the winter and Auriemma's college schedule, it's been virtually impossible to get everyone in the same place at the same time.

While Catchings is fresh, most of the other players are tired from their long seasons overseas. The WNBA is in the middle of training camp and their season starts this Friday.

Auriemma's system is familiar to half the team as six of the players are UConn graduates. Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Swin Cash, Asjha Jones, Maya Moore and Tina Charles all played for Auriemma. Charles didn't really participate much in practice Friday as she was rehabbing a groin injury.

Bird was sporting a face mask to protect her nose that was broken while playing this winter.

“It's not my favorite thing to wear but it allows me to play,” Bird said. “I've broken it before so it's not really an adjustment; it's more of a nuisance.”

This will be the only time the Americans are together before the WNBA takes a month-long break from its season for the Olympics. The team will get together again on July 14. They will spend three days in Washington, D.C., before heading to Manchester, England. The U.S. will play in a tournament in Istanbul before returning to London at the start of the Olympics, which begin on July 27.

“It's not ideal since other teams have been practicing for a lot longer but it's what we have,” said Bird, who will also be playing in her third Olympics. “Every time you put the USA jersey on, it's an honor. I'm lucky I have had the opportunity to represent my country. Growing up, there was no WNBA to look forward to. For me, my dream was always playing in the Olympics.''

Photo: Tamika Catchings