New Sky coach Chatman not new to everyone
The first time new Chicago Sky coach Pokey Chatman met star center Sylvia Fowles, Fowles didn't go by the nickname "Big Syl," as she does now.
Fowles was younger and smaller then.
But she didn't go by "Little Syl" either.
"I've never been a "Little Syl," laughed the 6-foot-5 Fowles, who has always been tall for her age. "I was "Skinny Syl" back then.
"I first met Pokey when I was in ninth or 10th grade and I was about 35 pound lighter. I was the skinniest thing. But I was also the quickest thing on the court."
That's what caught Chatman's eye. Fowles was a long, tall budding high school star who could fly from one baseline to the other. An assistant coach for LSU at the time, Chatman was champing at the bit to get a commitment out of Fowles.
Of course, Fowles eventually went to LSU, where she led the Tigers to four Final Fours and was named an All-American.
She also spent four years cultivating a close relationship with Chatman, who eventually became the head coach at LSU near the end of Fowles' career.
As they team up again, this time in an effort to bring the playoffs and even a WNBA championship to Chicago, Chatman and Fowles see their past history as an advantage that can't be underestimated. Especially for a new coach in her first year.
"I've known Pokey for a long time now and I'm so excited for her," Fowles said. "She's a great coach and she knows how to win. She's done well at every level and this is the next step to her success."
Most rookie coaches don't have such a strong ally pulling for them from the inside. And Chatman has two.
Sky guard Epiphanny Prince is another. She's been coached by Chatman before, too.
"It helps because Sylvia and Epiphanny can give all of our other players some insight as to what kind of person I am and what kind of expectations I'll have," Chatman said. "They have some comfort with me and with everything we're doing because they know a little bit more."
Prince got to know Chatman overseas.
Prior to arriving in Chicago last week to take over the Sky, which opens the regular season June 4 at Indiana, Chatman was coaching one of the top teams in the Euroleague, Spartak out of Russia. Prince happened to be one of her top players and the two spent a lot of time getting to know each other and the way they each approach the game.
"It makes me more comfortable having played for her before," Prince said. "Sometimes when you come in (with a new coach) you feel like you have to prove yourself and you start doing extra things, things you might not even be very good at.
"My advantage is that (Chatman) already knows what I can do, so I'm comfortable and all I'm trying to do is focus on what I can do to become better."
Speaking of getting better, rookie point guard Courtney Vandersloot is counting on Chatman to help her do that.
She and Chatman have no past history but she expects to get to know her new head coach quickly.
The two should be as closely connected as Chatman is with Fowles and Prince in no time.
Chatman was a star point guard during her playing days at LSU and will be an invaluable sounding board as Vandersloot learns the finer points of the pro game.
"It will be very beneficial for me (to learn under Chatman)," said Vandersloot, who was taken by the Sky with the third pick in April's WNBA draft. "That's one of the first things I thought when I got drafted by the Sky. I was really excited to play for Pokey because everyone I talked to had great things to say about her and how much she's going to help me.
"This is the perfect spot for me to develop into the best point guard I can be."
The Sky's lone preseason game in the area will be on Monday at 11:30 a.m. at Trinity International University in Deerfield.
The Sky will host the Chinese National team, the eighth-ranked team in the world according to the International Basketball Federation.
The game is part of the Sky's "Education Day" initiative, which enables students from select public and private elementary and middle schools in the area the opportunity to see the Sky in action.
Tickets are available for season-ticket holders and the general public, but seating is limited. For ticket information, call (866) SKY-WNBA.
The Sky's other preseason game is Thursday at Washington.
The Sky's first regular-season game is on the road June 4 against the Indiana Fever.
The first home game of the season is June 10 against the Connecticut Sun at Allstate Arena.
Like last year, most Sky home and road games this season will be broadcast locally on Comcast CN100. I will be doing color again alongside my wonderful partner, play-by-play man Brent Stover.