Dads beam at their X factors

Basketball: Women's standouts Kaayla Chones and Tamika and Tauja Catchings are proof that sons aren't the only offspring making their ex-NBA fathers stand up and cheer these days.

February 29, 2000|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

When his two youngest kids used to get together on the backyard basketball court at his Deerfield, Ill., home, Harvey Catchings knew the competition would eventually require a couple of the essentials of his NBA games, namely a referee and a trainer.

"I would always say to my wife, `Get the bandages ready,' because one or both of them would wind up bleeding," Catchings said recently.

The two offspring parlayed that intensity into NCAA Division I scholarships, and each has a reasonable chance at a professional career, like their dad, who played for 11 years in the NBA, notably with Philadelphia and Milwaukee.

But here's the twist: Catchings' two kids are not his sons, but his daughters.Tauja, a senior at Illinois, and Tamika, a Tennessee junior, are two of a growing number of female children of current and former NBA players who are making their own way in basketball.

Last month, for instance, Jim Chones, who starred in the ABA and NBA, watched proudly as his daughter, Kaayla, a 6-foot-3 freshman at North Carolina State, held her own against Tamika Catchings, scoring 18 points.

"Tell your dad I said hello. And thanks for taking it easy on my daughter," Jim Chones said to Tamika after the game.

Chones' older daughter, Kareeda, played at Marquette from 1994-95 through 1997-98.

Sons, of course, have been following their fathers onto basketball courts for years. Presently, the progeny of Bill Walton, Moses Malone, George Gervin, Mike Dunleavy and Gerald Wilkins are among those following in their dads' footsteps on campuses across the country.

But as more of Generation Title IX emerges in college athletics, other players include Kelly Collins, a senior guard at Lehigh who is the daughter of former NBA star Doug Collins, and Louisiana Tech freshman forward Cheryl Ford, whose father, Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone, also played at the Ruston, La., school.

Beyond the obvious physical traits that a parent can pass on, NBA dads can give their offspring -- male or female -- valuable intangibles.

"These young ladies have grown up around the game. They may not be able to play it, but they do know what the game is. And that alone will put them ahead of others," said Wes Unseld, general manager of both the Washington Wizards of the NBA and the WNBA Mystics.

Unseld, whose son, Wes, played collegiately at Loyola and Johns Hopkins and is now a special assistant for the Wizards and the Mystics' head scout, played against Chones and Catchings, and remembers both as fierce, proud competitors, the kind that wouldn't need to relive their careers through their offspring.

"Knowing Harvey Catchings and Jim Chones, I can guarantee that that won't happen," Unseld said.

But the wisdom of the fathers may help the daughters immensely in the coming month, when the national championship is decided. Tennessee, N.C. State and Illinois are likely to be in contention.

Before heading for college, Kaayla Chones, whose 11.3 points and 7.8 rebounds a game place her second on the Wolfpack roster and make her a candidate for ACC Rookie of the Year honors, passed up other basketball summer camps to work and play at her father's camp.

"I learned so much about basketball through him and, through that, I learned how to grow up and how to handle situations," she said. "All of sports are like that, and I think having my dad there firsthand helped me become a better person, and just let me understand all kinds of different things -- not just on the court, but off."

Said Jim Chones, now a stockbroker in Cleveland: "They [the kids] are going to learn skills, because they'll have good coaches. But it's that mental toughness and that will to win games that no coach can give you. You've got to see that in your mom and dad and the way you were raised.

"Both of those kids [Catchings' daughters] have had that. I hope one day Kaayla becomes as great a player as Tamika. She's better than she's shown this year. And her sister [Tauja] is coming on. She'll be a better pro than a college player."

If the second-ranked Lady Vols win the national title this year, which would be their seventh overall and their fourth in the past five seasons, Harvey Catchings may qualify for more than a congratulatory hug from his daughter. His impromptu late-January visit to Tamika may have saved Tennessee's season.

Tamika's play had been foundering, including an eight-point performance in Tennessee's 74-67 home loss to Connecticut on Jan. 8 and only three rebounds in a crushing, 78-51 loss to Georgia nine days later.

"I feel like I let my team down in some ways in that I didn't step up when we needed it," Tamika said. "In some of the big games, they [opponents] would pick on me, so I would shy away. My teammates don't need that. They need me to come out every game and play my heart out every game."

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