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posted: 8/31/2012 6:42 PM

Mystery swirls around 'Big Syl's' absence

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  • Center Sylvia Fowles has missed the last two games for unspecified "personal" reasons, and Sky coach Pokey Chatman has not provided any additional details.

    Center Sylvia Fowles has missed the last two games for unspecified "personal" reasons, and Sky coach Pokey Chatman has not provided any additional details.
    Associated Press


It's bad timing for Chicago Sky center Sylvia Fowles to have elected to sit out the last two games for "personal reasons."

The term "personal reasons" was used recently by the Atlanta Dream, during the calm before its storm. Considering all the turmoil that is now happening with that franchise, "personal reasons" almost seems like it could be WNBA code for "one big, hot mess."

On Monday, the Dream fired head coach Marynell Meadors with 10 games left in the season and her team positioned firmly in the hunt for a playoff spot.

Meadors had coached the Dream to the last two Eastern Conference championships and, as general manager, was also the architect of Atlanta's amazing ascent from expansion team to championship contender in less than five years.

But rumor has it that all was not right with Meadors and her star player -- forward Angel McCoughtry -- the WNBA's leading scorer. McCoughtry missed two consecutive games for "personal reasons" just before the firing of Meadors.

Observers expect Atlanta to unravel fast. As implied in a Tweet that was written on the day Meadors was fired by Olympic coach Geno Auriemma, who coached McCoughtry in London and had Meadors by his side as an assistant: the inmate is running the asylum.

This is where the 6-foot-6 Fowles, also an Olympian, comes in. The Sky was already unraveling. Would it be that far off base, in light of her absences for "personal reasons" that haven't been qualified by typical excuses such as an injury or a death in the family, for people to presume that she and Sky coach Pokey Chatman could be having major problems, too? Or that there are personality conflicts in the locker room that might involve Fowles?

Clearly, there is far more to be stressed about in Chicago this season than there ever has been in Atlanta.

When Fowles sat out her first of two straight games starting last weekend, the Sky was in the midst of a nine-game losing streak and a drought that included losses in 13 of 14 games.

Fowles also had struggled through some rough outings since her return from the Olympic break and has also been dealing with nagging knee and foot problems.

In my opinion, a major meltdown by Fowles would be surprising, even with all the losing and personal struggles. She's one of the nicest, upbeat and most even-keeled professional athletes I've met. However, I can certainly understand how Fowles could have temporarily lost her cool, and perhaps her better judgment. (And make no mistake, unless she is seriously injured, it is a lapse in judgment for her to turn away during a crucial point in the season.)

"Big Syl" is the focal point of the franchise, and has been since she was drafted in 2008. The load on her shoulders is heavy, even crushing at times.

Fowles is counted on to either score or set up a majority of her team's points. And because she's a center, it is easier for opponents to double- and triple-team her, which they do on almost every possession. Along the way, Fowles takes a relentless physical beating from tip-off to final buzzer. Without fail. For most teams, that's the only way to defend Fowles.

The fact that she's been struggling and that the team has been struggling, and that she's still tired and banged up from the Olympics, might have set into motion the perfect storm of frustration and discontent for Fowles.

But Chatman says, without hesitation, that Fowles is just fine, that the player she coached in college at LSU and has known since she was a gangly 13-year-old growing up with a single mom in Miami just needed some time.

Time for what exactly hasn't been made entirely clear. Did Fowles need time to clear her head? Time to reset her attitude? Time to catch her breath and her second wind?

We might never know, especially if this blows over. But Chatman did say that she was happy Fowles could also use the time away as an opportunity to get more thoroughly checked by doctors to ensure her health is good for the stretch run.

"I don't worry about the perceptions involving Syl," said Chatman, when asked about the inevitable comparisons between Fowles and McCoughtry. "I'm in the locker room. I know what's going on with this team. I understand the sensationalism of outsiders. I don't know the circumstances in Atlanta, but with us, I know that I've probably talked to Syl more (while Fowles was sitting out) than I have in the last two years because she wants to be here.

"I know her so well. I don't have to read between the lines with her. We just talk real. And we're going to move forward."

Fowles was scheduled to attend a team function this week and it is anticipated that she will be in the lineup for today's game in Indiana (6 p.m., Comcast CN100).

If Fowles and the Sky really are able to move forward with little repercussion, Atlanta, which sits just ahead of the Sky in third place in the Eastern Conference standings, is there for the taking.

I'm not sure the Dream will be able to move forward from this McCoughtry-Meadors soap opera very well at all.

Since Meadors was fired, the Dream lost a game to the Tulsa Shock, the worst team in the WNBA. Even crazier, McCoughtry was suddenly and inexplicably suspended indefinitely on Tuesday. Without her, the Dream's season could turn into an even bigger nightmare.

Whether or not the Sky can capitalize and leapfrog Atlanta in the standings will depend a lot on Big Syl and the seriousness of those "personal reasons."

•Patricia Babcock McGraw has been covering the Sky since its inaugural season in 2006. She is also the color analyst for all Sky television games, which are broadcast on Comcast CN100.

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