For years, Pokey Chatman and the Indiana Fever organization have admired one another from afar. So when they had the chance to join forces this offseason, it was a no-brainer for both parties.
Chatman was formally introduced as the sixth head coach in franchise history on Friday morning at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. She joins the Fever after six years as the coach and general manager of the Chicago Sky, where she guided that organization to great success. She led Chicago to its first-ever playoff appearance in 2013, took the team to the WNBA Finals a year later, and reached the postseason again in each of the last two seasons.
Photo Gallery: Chatman Introduced as the Fever’s Head Coach >>
Yet Chatman was unexpectedly let go by the Sky on Oct. 28. Fever President and General Manager Kelly Krauskopf had already begun interviewing candidates for Indiana’s coaching vacancy, but when she heard that Chatman was on the market and interested in coming to Indiana, she jumped at the opportunity to bring in a coach with so much experience and success at the WNBA level.
“One of my primary goals was to find a coach that had great coaching experience — preferably head coaching experience — in our league,” Krauskopf said. “…There’s only 12 people that do what she does. There’s only 12 people that do what I do. I think that know-how — for our group of players, for our veterans — I wanted to make sure they had somebody that understood that, that understood this level of game.”
Chatman could barely contain her excitement about the opportunity to join an organization that she had long revered.
“The synergy here is palpable,” Chatman said.
“It’s the entire makeup of the organization, top down. And then to successfully carry that out on the court…You feel it, you see it.”
The Fever and the Sky met in the playoffs for three straight seasons from 2013-15. The Fever swept top-seeded Chicago in the first round in 2013, but the Sky got their revenge a year later, rallying from a Game 1 loss to best Indiana in three games in the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals. The Fever took the rubber match a year later, beating the Sky in three games to kickstart their run to the 2015 WNBA Finals.
Over the course of that rivalry, a mutual admiration grew between Chatman and members of the Fever organization.
“There’s banners for conference championships, there’s the brass, the rings,” Chatman said. “What’s impressive to me are the cheeks in the seats, the fanbase.
“I thoroughly enjoyed playing here…I just hated the three-and-a-half our bus ride back when it didn’t go my way.”
Likewise, Krauskopf espoused praise for Chatman’s work in building the Sky into a perennial postseason threat. She said it wasn’t hard to notice the hallmarks of a Chatman-coached team.
“They’re well coached, they’re well disciplined,” Krauskopf said. “They play hard, they play fast, they score a lot of points. They’re also well developed. The thing I’ve noticed about her teams and her players is they always get better. Her player development is one of the best in the league.”
Indeed, a close examination of Chatman’s time in Chicago bears that out.
She drafted Elena Delle Donne with the second overall pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft and under her guidance, Delle Donne quickly blossomed into one of the best players in the league, winning the MVP award in 2015 and earning First Team All-WNBA honors in each of the last two seasons.
But Chatman’s success in Chicago was deeper than just landing a superstar. As Krauskopf said, her ability to develop players shined through time and again.
Sharpshooter Allie Quigley played in just 34 WNBA games from 2008-11 and was out of the league in 2012, but Chatman gave her a chance to make an impact with the Sky in 2013. Quigley played in every game that season before making a tremendous leap in her second season under Chatman, when her scoring average jumped from 3.8 points per game to 11.2.
Quigley wound up winning the WNBA’s Sixth Woman of the Year award in 2014 and took home the honors again in 2015.
Chatman pulled off similar marvels with other players like Jessica Breland, who she watched make a comeback in Indiana under Lin Dunn in 2013 and then signed in free agency that offseason. Breland wound up making the All-Star team in 2014.
The Sky’s stunning run to the WNBA Finals remains Chatman’s greatest coaching achievement. Delle Donne sat out half of the team’s games during the regular season when her Lyme disease flared up, but Chatman held the team together and still guided it to the postseason.
Delle Donne aggravated a back injury in Chicago’s first-round victory, severely hampering her performance on the court. The Sky’s star player scored just four points in 21 minutes in their Game 3 victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to advance to the WNBA Finals, but Chicago still found a way to win — with Quigley scoring a game-high 21 points.
“It was great to watch the evolution of her team,” Fever point guard Briann January said on Friday. “Because towards the beginning of my career, we kind of owned that rivalry between Chicago and Indiana. But then as she got involved and changed that team, they got tougher.”
Chatman now inherits a Fever franchise preparing to embark on a new era. The team’s WNBA-record streak of 12 consecutive postseason appearances — a streak that stretches back across three previous coaching regimes — remains intact, but Future Hall of Famer Tamika Catchings retired at the end of the 2016 season.
Catchings was on hand for Friday’s press conference, but she will not be donning a uniform next season. So in a sense, bringing in a new coach after Stephanie White left to become the head coach at Vanderbilt makes sense — it’s the perfect start to a new chapter.
Even without Catchings, the Fever return a strong core of experienced players, led by an eight-year veteran and All-Star point guard in January. When Chatman came to Indianapolis to interview for the head coaching job, Krauskopf allowed January to sit down with Chatman, and the two talented point guards (Chatman was an All-American in her playing days at LSU) had a lengthy conversation.
They already had an established relationship through years of playing against each other and working together at USA Basketball mini camps, but January walked away from that conversation even more impressed with her new head coach.
“She’s so fiery, so competitive,” January said. “She’s a student of the game.”
“Just to sit back and pick her brain and see her vision for her team and hear her passion, that got me excited. I’m glad this was our choice and we’re going to do something special here.”
Chatman has already dove headfirst into her new job. She said that she doesn’t plan to make wholesale changes to the team’s style of play, but has highlighted a few specific areas where she feels the team can continue to improve.
The Fever’s new coach said she plans to continue to increase the team’s pace of play, building on the progress White was able to make in that regard over the last few seasons. Chatman also mentioned that she would like to help the team improve in transition defense and halfcourt offensive execution late in the shot clock.
“She’s driven,” Krauskopf said. “I mean, she’s emailing me at 4:30 in the morning wanting practice video because she’s already gone through all the game video.”
The start of the 2017 WNBA season is still six months away, but make no mistake — Pokey Chatman has already hit the ground running.
Interested in Fever tickets? Join us for Select-A-Seat and you can test drive the best available seat location for 2017. You can also meet new head coach Pokey Chatman and All-Star guard Briann January.