Sky missing playoffs gnaws at Pokey Chatman

  • Coach Pokey Chatman is anxious but optimistic about the Sky's chances to earn its first-ever playoff berth nexxt year.

    Coach Pokey Chatman is anxious but optimistic about the Sky's chances to earn its first-ever playoff berth nexxt year. Associated Press

Updated 10/14/2011 9:32 PM

Most of us relish days off.

Not Chicago Sky coach Pokey Chatman. She was downright repulsed recently by her time away from basketball.


She had a rare string of free days between her final game with the Sky in mid-September and her first day of work in Russia, where she coaches a successful Euroleague team that is home to several WNBA players over the winter.

"I got 10 days off and I was hoping to have zero," Chatman said from Russia this week. "I didn't want any downtime. At all."

Downtime in Chatman's universe might as well be a dirty word. It's the equivalent of a job left unfinished.

The reason she had a break in the action is because her team here in Chicago got no playoff action. The Sky (14-20 on the season) failed to make the playoffs for the sixth time in its six-year existence.

It gnaws at Chatman, even though she was a rookie coach and is technically just a small contributor (0-1) to the playoff futility.

Wildly successful everywhere else she's been a head coach, Chatman was bent on making the Sky a playoff team in 2011. With her top goal left unchecked, she will be stewing all winter about ways to avoid a repeat in 2012.

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Chatman is open to anything: to helping her players completely overhaul their games, to simply overhauling the roster altogether. My instinct is that the only player safe from scrutiny is all-star center Sylvia Fowles, who had a spectacular, MVP-caliber season and would have been named WNBA MVP had the Sky made the playoffs.

Speaking of the playoffs, considering they ended last week with the Minnesota Lynx sweeping the Atlanta Dream for the WNBA championship, now is the perfect time to reflect on the Sky's season.

Here are some issues that Chatman addressed in our phone conversation:

PBM: How can Big Syl get better? She was pretty darn good this summer, becoming just the second player in WNBA history to average more than 20 points and 10 rebounds for a season.

PC: "Sylvia had a great year. It's amazing that somehow she ended up on second team (all-WNBA). But what can you do about that? She'll work on being more vocal and on developing a more consistent mid-range jumper."


PBM: What is the Sky's most pressing need?

PC: "A scoring small forward. We thought we started to fill a big hole when (forward) Shameka Christon came back healthy (Christon missed most of the 2010 season with an eye injury). But then she went down (Christon then suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp and was waived). That was tough for us. We need someone in that position who can create her own shot and when you take that shot away, she can create another. The hard thing is, there aren't a lot of players like that out there. They're all-stars. But we will try to make any changes we can to get a player like that and improve our team."

PBM: Speaking of perimeter play, what did you think about your two young guards, rookie Courtney Vandersloot and Epiphanny Prince, who was in her second season? They were both named all-stars but struggled in the second half of the season to stay consistent.

PC: "Well, I wasn't happy. We committed so many turnovers (the Sky led the WNBA in turnovers with about 18 per game) and it seemed like we were often overwhelmed (on the perimeter). There often wasn't comfort or confidence there, it was fear."

PBM: What about Vandersloot specifically? It's tough having a rookie point guard.

PC: "It really is. We put a lot on Courtney, especially when (veteran point guard) Dominique (Canty) went down with an injury (that sidelined her for 12 games). We had no transition period for Sloot and I think the pressure got to her. I think she wore down physically, too. We had a back-to-back one time and I thought she was going to die. She is so talented, but she has things she can work on, like getting stronger, like becoming a basketball junkie and a student of WNBA basketball so that she knows tendencies and is able to make good decisions. She'd be the first to tell you that."

PBM: And Prince? Defenses seemed to have her number later in the season. She wasn't able to get to the basket as easily.

PC: "With Piph, I am asking her to grow up mentally as a pro basketball player. I told her many times this season that if she doesn't play well, we don't play well and she needs to be able to handle that. We also need to get her to develop more of a midrange game."

PBM: Did trading former Sky guard Jia Perkins for 6-foot-6 center Michelle Snow in the off-season pan out the way you had hoped? Snow was among the league leaders in blocks and rebounds but didn't score much (5.9 ppg).

PC: "It was up and down. She definitely wasn't as much of a factor later in the season. But a lot of people don't know that Michelle was playing with an injured (foot) at the end of the season. When she wasn't practicing or playing, she was in a boot. What I did like about her was what she brought defensively. Her length definitely bothered people."

PBM: Were forwards Tamera Young and Shay Murphy, two players who were known for their hustle and scrappiness, bright spots this season?

PC: "Tamera is a fighter. She's just determined on the court. She plays hard. We asked her to be a great defender and rebounder and she took a lot of pride in that. Shay was always out doing the little things and her minutes went up because of that."

PBM: Are you optimistic for 2012?

PC: "I am and I'm working and I'm anxious. The playoffs are our only option. I'm going to get better (in the off-season), our players are going to get better and we're going to go out and improve the team every way we can. It's just a matter of time. It's not like we never had a chance this year. We were right there in many games. It's funny because the disappointment and frustration from last year is also the cause for excitement for next year."

• Patricia Babcock McGraw, who covers the WNBA for the Daily Herald, also provides color commentary for Chicago Sky broadcasts.

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