Pokey Chatman always believed she’d return to the WNBA, but it wasn’t a desire that consumed her, so she waited patiently for the right opportunity before making a comeback. 

When the Indiana Fever relieved her of her coaching and general manager duties Sept. 10, 2019, the Louisiana native went home and tried using an unexpected break from basketball to — in her words — “relax, recalibrate, reconnect with folks I’ve been missing and mostly to get rejuvenated.” 

“As a coach, you will always entertain coaching opportunities, but when you get to a certain age — I’ll be 53 soon — you have the privilege to be a little picky,” Chatman said. “What I mean is, it had to be a special situation for me to come back. I was finished coaching, but you want to be impactful somewhere.” 

Chatman, who reportedly interviewed for the Phoenix Mercury head coaching job in December, spoke with Storm coach Noelle Quinn about a vacancy on her staff. 

“I had multiple conversations with her,” Quinn said. “I didn’t know if she would say yes. I didn’t know if the ask was too small. But she didn’t have an ego. She was super selfless and saying she wanted to come in and help and be a part of what we’re doing. 

“I’m big on everything happens for a reason. Things happen when they’re supposed to happen. There’s a reason why I had it in my heart to reach out to her and there’s a reason why she’s here.” 

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Added Chatman: “I’m sure she had the pick of the litter of people to call. It was nice to get that phone call about coming along with her on this journey. It was an easy yes. It was a no-brainer.” 

Chatman and first-year assistant Ebony Hoffman, who join Perry Huang, were introduced as the newest additions to the Storm coaching staff Jan. 21, replacing Gary Kloppenburg and Ryan Webb. 

Quinn, who heads into her second year and first full season in command of the Storm, witnessed firsthand Chatman’s coaching ability in 2007 when she played for her in Russia. 

“I know how dedicated she is to her craft and how intelligent she is,” Quinn said. “I know her presence and how she teaches. All of those qualities that I saw as a player, I thought I could lean on her and have a former head coach who has been through it and who looks like me.  

“It was important. It was important for me to have her here.” 

During her introductory news conference after taking over for Dan Hughes six games into the 2021 season, Quinn noted the significance of becoming the 19th Black woman to coach in the WNBA and rattled off the names of her predecessors, starting with Chatman. 

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Noelle Quinn knows the history, and the honor, to be a Black woman head coach taking over the Storm

“When she did that, I was done, man. Just blown away,” Chatman said. “I didn’t see it live. I was 5,000 miles away in Russia. But I wanted to jump through my phone and hug her. That’s who she is.  

“If I was Noey at her age, I’d be in the Hall of Fame right now. She’s good. … I’m here to support her in every way, but I’m here to learn from her, too.” 

There’s not much Chatman doesn’t already know about basketball. 

She started coaching at 23 as a graduate assistant at LSU, where she was a 1991 Kodak All-American point guard who left school after a four-year career as the program’s all-time assists and steals leader. 

Chatman spent 12 years on the LSU coaching staff before being elevated to interim head coach in 2004 when Sue Gunter took a medical leave of absence.  

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Gunter retired before passing away the next year and LSU promoted Chatman, who guided the Lady Tigers to three straight trips to the NCAA Final Four and compiled a 105-19 record during a four-year stint. 

Chatman, who resigned from LSU in 2007 after school officials became aware of an alleged inappropriate relationship between her and a former player, coached three years in Slovakia before joining the WNBA in 2011. 

During a six-year stint as coach and general manager, Chatman led the Chicago Sky to four playoff trips, including the 2014 WNBA Finals. 

After the Sky fired her in 2016, Chatman landed with the Fever the following year. However, Indiana missed the playoffs in three straight seasons and she was released in 2019. 

“I went to Indiana to blow it up and build it up,” said Chatman who amassed a 135-172 record and is tied for 11th with the most career coaching wins. “At the end of the day, that’s hard to do in three years.” 

Back home in Louisiana, the pandemic forced Chatman to slow down for much of 2020. 

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Mostly, Chatman kept busy training players and consulting for colleges and semipro teams. Recently, she served as a facilitator for the new Athletes Unlimited Basketball League in Las Vegas. 

After three days of training camp, Chatman said she’s settled in nicely with the Storm, which play the Los Angeles Sparks on Saturday in their exhibition opener. 

“I’m a little bummed that she hasn’t broken out the Pokeyisms just yet, which is just these sayings that she has,” said veteran Sue Bird, who won the 2010 EuroLeague championship with Chatman as coach of the Russian team Spartak. “It’s 12 years later, so I’m sure we’re not getting the same Pokey. … You start to add and learn different things as you grow. You see different ways the game is being played.  

“I’m sure there’s more that I’ll get to see from Pokey than before. Even though she’s an assistant, she has this wealth of knowledge from her head-coaching experience that’s invaluable to any coaching staff.” 

Being back in the WNBA reminds Chatman how much she loves this league. 

“I already knew this, but you appreciate how special this sport is because of its professional nature and its ability to maintain this unique grassroots approach that no other sport can say.”