INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Tamika Catchings of the Indiana Fever has been selected the WNBA's most valuable player for the first time.
Catchings averaged 15.5 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game this season and is among the league's top 10 in scoring, rebounding, free-throw percentage and steals. The 32-year-old forward had finished in the top five in the balloting eight times and was runner-up in 2009 and 2010.
Indiana finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference, giving the Fever homecourt advantage in the first two rounds of the playoffs. The Fever will play Atlanta on Thursday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Connecticut's Tina Charles was second, followed by Chicago center Sylvia Fowles, Seattle's Sue Bird and Minnesota's Lindsay Whalen.
Catchings is a four-time defensive player of the year who has led the Fever to the playoffs seven straight years, the Eastern Conference Finals four times and the WNBA Finals once. Earlier this year, the WNBA selected her among its 15 greatest players of all time.
While the humble Tennessee product has often said she's mostly concerned with winning a WNBA title, her teammates were vocal about their belief in her talent.
Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird, who had campaigned for Catchings, said she deserves the award.
"Everyone here at Pacers Sports & Entertainment is not only happy to have an MVP, but also a quality person who is not only great on the court, but in the community as well," he said. "This is very deserving, as Tamika fits the true description of an MVP. It's another in a long list of accomplishments, all of which we're extremely proud for her."
Fever COO and General Manager Kelly Krauskopf was emotional when she heard the news.
"I just got big tears in my eyes," Krauskopf said. "I was so happy and thrilled for Tamika.
After Catchings tied a career high with 32 points in a win over the Liberty on Aug. 13, Fever coach Lin Dunn started an unofficial campaign.
"Catch is a multidimensional player," Dunn said that night. "I think sometimes she's not given enough credit for all the different things she can do. She gets assists, she gets steals, she gets rebounds, she scores and she defends like nobody else in the league. It's unfortunate that so much emphasis is put on 'Who's the leading scorer?'"
Krauskopf said Catchings' versatility and work ethic deserved to be rewarded.
"I never gave up hope that at some point the media and the folks who voted on this would see the effect she has," she said.
Pat Summitt, Catchings' coach at Tennessee, said the forward is an MVP in every way.
"She totally symbolizes every aspect of what a most valuable player should be through her leadership and everyday excellence on the court," Summitt said. "I am, and always have been, extremely proud of how Tamika goes about her business. I have been fortunate to coach a lot of great players but there has always been a 'specialness' between Catch and I because she is so real."