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Ex-LSU coach Chatman set for new challenge

Dan‘‘Pokey’’ Chatman guided LSU three Women’s Final Fours row before resigning amid sordid allegations. | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times

Dana ‘‘Pokey’’ Chatman guided LSU to three Women’s Final Fours in a row before resigning amid sordid allegations. | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 30, 2011 4:45AM

After three years of relative exile spurred by charges that she was sexually involved with LSU players she coached, Dana “Pokey” Chatman is finally back where she belongs and doing what she does best.

Chatman, 41, a former All-American player and coach at LSU who guided the Russian team Spartak Moscow to a 16-0 record and the 2010 European Championship, is the new coach and general manager of the WNBA’s Chicago Sky.

“I am very happy to be coming back home [to the United States], especially because I’m coming to the right opportunity,” Chatman said. “I’ll be coaching talented players in Chicago, a city with a great basketball tradition.”

During her Christmas break from coaching Spartak Moscow, she hired 20-year veteran Jeff House and eight-year veteran Christie Sides to be her assistant coaches with the Sky.

“One of the main things we wanted in our new coach was one with a winning culture,” Sky owner Michael Alter said. “We believe we have found that in Pokey Chatman. She knows how to win. She’s been a winner all her life.”

Chatman’s predecessors — NBA Hall of Famer Dave Cowens, Bo Overton and Steven Key, all men — failed to bring Sky fans as much as a playoff appearance in the team’s first five seasons. Now it’s Chatman’s turn.

“I came here to build the Sky into a winning team,” she said. “And that’s what I’m going to do. Coaching four years in Russia has been very rewarding to me.”

Chatman coached LSU to three consecutive Women’s Final Fours and won a gaggle of coach of the year awards before an assistant coach charged her in March 2007 with being intimate with some of her players.

Nothing was proved, but Chatman resigned and sued LSU for $600,000. The matter was settled out of court for $160,000.

“After playing and coaching basketball for 20 years, obviously there was disappointment, frustration and anger,” Chatman said. “Tears were the easy part. You cry, and they dry up quickly. But when you have God, relatives and friends on your side, you can survive anything.”

Chatman then passed up other college offers to withdraw from the controversy and coach in Russia. Some critics hoped her career was over. Faithful fans thought she had gotten a raw deal and one day would return to the United States to redeem herself.

“I think ‘redemption’ is a word that’s good for those who love you and are pulling for you,” Chatman said. “But it doesn’t drive me. What drives me is my expertise and making the best of my opportunities.”

Chatman’s return gives her the opportunity to rebuild the Sky around stars such as 6-6 Sylvia Fowles and 5-9 Epiphanny Prince.

“Nobody’s in a position to judge anybody else in things we don’t know,” DePaul women’s coach Doug Bruno said. “But I do know that Pokey knows how to win, and she will give the Sky a winner.”

Prince, who is averaging 17.5 points per game for Chatman with Spartak Moscow, agreed.

“She’s great,” Prince said. “She’s teaching me how to think like a point guard, push the ball, shoot better. She will have [the Sky] playing a tough defense and up-tempo offense. In the halfcourt, we’ll do a better job of getting the ball in to [Fowles].”

Rather than bury her career, Chatman said she thinks her success in Russia rejuvenated it.

“It gave me a chance to learn a different style of basketball with American players,” she said. “That opportunity would not have come if not for the [LSU controversy].

“Moscow, a city of 15 million, is like New York on steroids. But it was not as cold as people said and was more Americanized than I thought, and we had the perfect owner in [former KGB agent and multimillion-dollar businessman] Shabtai Von Kalmanovic. He was extremely nice to us. . . .

“So overall, the Russian experience was great. I coached the best players in Fowles, Sue Bird, Noelle Quinn, Lauren Jackson and Epiphanny. I visited great cities like Madrid, Prague, Venice and Paris. I tasted vodka, expensive caviar and went to the Bolshoi. I’m better for all that experience.”

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