Commentary

Will Pokey Chatman be lift the Sky need?

Originally Published: October 29, 2010
By Mechelle Voepel | ESPN.com

Pokey Chatman returns to the United States to coach next summer in the WNBA, and it would seem a lot of women's basketball fans will be very happy to have her back. Some others might not be. And still others will take a wait-and-see approach.

Chatman, who had a difficult end to her college coaching career at LSU in 2007, was named coach and general manager of the Chicago Sky on Friday. It reunites Chatman with former LSU star Sylvia Fowles, a first-team all-WNBA selection this past season and center on the national team.

[+] EnlargePokey Chatman
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIIn Chicago, Pokey Chatman will be reunited with former LSU star Sylvia Fowles.

It would seem to give the Sky organization a boost of much-needed adrenaline and know-how, from someone who has spent her adult life coaching women's basketball. Someone who has been out of sight, but not out of mind.

Since the bizarre -- and poorly handled -- announcement of her forced resignation from LSU in March 2007, Chatman has been a hard-to-define presence in the sport. People kept wondering if/when she'd coach again in the United States without it ever being publicly known, for sure, why she left.

The reason apparently had to do with an improper relationship with a player -- although what player and when and what happened has still never been explained. Assistant coach Bob Starkey finished the 2007 season leading LSU, which made the Final Four for a fourth consecutive year, and then Van Chancellor took over the program.

Some felt Chatman -- a former LSU star and legendary coach Sue Gunter's prot&ecaute;gé -- got what she deserved by losing her job at her alma mater. Others thought she was being punished too harshly. And some really felt she'd been judged guilty without any real evidence.

Since everything that happened was so cloaked in murkiness and silence on all sides, it was difficult to come to any absolutely certain opinion on what happened. The only people who knew the facts weren't sharing them.

At this point, it's probably folly to think we'll ever know for sure what went on. As Chatman starts her career in the WNBA, she'll have to face questions about her past. That's a given. But then, as the season moves on next summer, the past probably won't remain a hot topic for all that long.

What will be interesting is watching how well and how quickly Chatman adapts to the WNBA. You'd expect that it will be pretty fast. She has already gotten used to coaching professionals, as she has spent the past couple of years successfully leading Spartak Moscow.

There is no doubt that Chatman knows the personnel for the Sky and the teams Chicago will be playing against. It would seem like a fairly seamless transition, save the fact that now she'll have more critical eyes on her than she did while in Russia.

Goodness knows the Sky need a spark, after missing the playoffs again this season, after which Steve Key resigned as coach and GM. The Chicago franchise has not made the postseason in its five years of existence, and Key never really seemed to win over the fans' confidence or enthusiasm.

Almost since she left LSU, Chatman -- a popular figure in the college game -- has been the subject of rumors that she was coming back to coach in the United States … somewhere. As whatever happened at LSU faded into the past, it seemed like a path became clearer for Chatman's return.

Her fans are thrilled to see it, although there will be people who still feel much has been left unanswered. I said from the first word of Chatman's nonsensical-sounding resignation announcement three years ago that this was really just a very hard thing to figure out because of the scarcity of facts.

Apparently, the Sky management is satisfied that for whatever negative baggage Chatman might bring initially, she has proven the ability to be a winning coach over a sustained period of time.

For a franchise that really needs a lift, you hope for Chicago's sake that Chatman is the right answer.

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at voepel.wordpress.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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