- Nancy Lieberman, Basketball analyst / Writer
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Just before Texas and Texas Tech clashed Wednesday, the head coaches from each team met for a brief but warm pregame huddle.
With Tech's Marsha Sharp having undergone an angiogram recently, Longhorns coach Jody Conradt took advantage of the one-on-one opportunity to inquire how Sharp was feeling. Smiles and handshakes were exchanged before the two walked back toward their benches.
Although Conradt and Sharp have been friends for a long time and therefore might have a more genuine pregame run-in than others, theirs was the sort of encounter we have all grown to expect from opposing coaches just before tipoff.
Some might wonder what is actually said during these quick meet-and-greets, but there's usually not a lot to it. It has become routine for coaches to meet at midcourt, no matter however briefly, to exchange pleasantries and a handshake, perhaps a brief pat on the back. It's not unusual for one coach to compliment the other on a recent win, or even throw out an offer of support if the other lost a tough game or a couple in a row.
Long story short, it's typically 10-20 seconds of small talk.
Obviously, that wasn't the case Monday when LSU hosted Baylor in a nationally televised game between two of the top 10 programs in the nation, not to mention a rematch of a 2005 Final Four game. After the final whistle, Lady Bears coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson accused LSU's Pokey Chatman of saying "something very unprofessional before the game." The incident carried over to the coaches' postgame handshake; Chatman eventually ripped her hand out of Mulkey-Robertson's grip and started walking away, even as the Baylor coach kept talking.
In the news conference after the game, neither coach would divulge the remarks shared between them, although Mulkey-Robertson -- whose Lady Bears beat what was largely considered a better LSU team in April en route to the 2005 NCAA title -- expressed her displeasure at Chatman's pregame comments.
"You don't say things like that. She hasn't earned the right to say something like that to me" because "she hasn't been coaching long enough," Mulkey-Robertson said.
So what exactly was said?
According to several sources who were at the game but wish to remain anonymous, the conversation turned sour from the get-go.
"I don't really want to do this," Chatman reportedly said as the two coaches began shaking hands, "but I'm gonna do this because the TV cameras want us to. I don't like you, and I'm sure you don't like me."
"Is this over the Hightower thing?" Mulkey-Robertson responded, referring to Allison Hightower, a top-10 recruit and 5-foot-10 guard out of Arlington, Texas, who originally orally committed to Baylor but then signed a letter of intent to play for LSU in November.
"No, it's over a lot of things," Chatman said before turning to walk back to her bench.
During a phone interview Friday, however, Chatman disputed that account.
"You've been given an inaccurate account of what transpired," said Chatman, but she declined to offer more details.
At this point, both coaches likely are looking forward to putting the exchange behind them. And though we can't verify what really was said Monday, here's what we do know: There's no place in basketball -- women's or men's -- for stuff like this. Clearly, Mulkey-Robertson was offended by something Chatman said, and that in itself raises red flags.
Both of these coaches are incredibly competitive, but they know that pregame and postgame exchanges are no place to discuss any differences you might have. You grin and bear it, shake hands, and bite your tongue. If there's a bigger issue, you deal with each other in private, perhaps by a postseason phone call or e-mail, if not face-to-face. But you do it in a private setting, a more appropriate forum.
In this day and age, basketball and how you run your team is a business. You need to be professional about it because your administration, your players, and the media and fans are watching your every move. Unfortunately, whatever differences Chatman and Mulkey-Robertson might have with each other are now on public record when the focus of Monday's game should have been about two of the nation's top teams.
And that's the irony of the entire situation. This season, we're celebrating the 25th anniversary of the women's NCAA Tournament, which has afforded us tremendous growth, awareness and exposure we so badly wanted for our sport. But now that we have them, we need to make better choices. Twenty years ago, this incident wouldn't have been news at all, and it certainly wouldn't have been on national television. So, with the good comes the bad.
Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.
What did Pokey Chatman say to Kim Mulkey-Robertson during the coaches' recent pregame run-in?