Chicago Sky Head Coach and General Manager Pokey Chatman led the team to its first playoff berth in 2013 and now she hopes to take the next step of winning it all.
Last season Chicago suffered from subpar bench play, prompting Pokey to bolster her bench for the 2014 season. Chatman signed former Indiana Fever forward Jessica Breland to replace the departed Swin Cash. Chicago also drafted NC State center Markeisha Gatling with the 10th pick in the WNBA Draft.
While the final roster isn't set yet, there are a handful of quality young players battling it out to make the Sky's squad - just the way Pokey Chatman wanted it.
Pokey Chatman spoke to Swish Appeal about the development of Elena Delle Donne, losing veteran forward Swin Cash, and her goal of winning a WNBA title.
Swish Appeal: How do you feel about the players you have in camp right now?
Pokey Chatman: I think if you talk to any coach after that first week you get excited because they're going to have that energy. I think when you add the number of players you have in training camp everything is at a fast pace. You have new faces, you're adding new things - this is a team that could have up to six new players. That whole process of implementing things makes the practices a little longer, but you also see a lot of progress in a short amount of time and that's what's been exciting for me.
SA: You have a new, bigger, stronger Elena. Talk about how different she looks on the court this year.
PC: The physical look is obvious but it's her play. You don't see that hesitation if she needs to dive into the post and post up. You don't see that hesitation on the catch and shoot. She's making the right decisions. We talked to her about this but, Elena would predetermine her move and because she was 6'5" she was able to create something but now you see her taking more balanced high quality shots and making the correct reads.
SA: Going into the offseason it was about getting tougher and stronger. Talk a little about the tough players you brought in this year.
PC: Going into the offseason you're feeling pretty good once you get over the early exit. You let that settle but you feel pretty good about coming back. We're dealing with a couple of injuries but that's part of it. I think what that invites is an excitement and energy for someone else to step up and tote the mail. Let's think about it, Epiphanny Prince is just about a veteran player now. Courtney Vandersloot is in her fourth year, Tamera Young, seventh year, I won't even talk about Sylvia, and Elena played like a second or third year player, so in terms of the toughness I was always talking about mentally. I think it was about them becoming more students of the game - watching some things, watching themselves, critiquing themselves. That was the seed that we planted with them during the offseason in specific areas of their game. So I think that mental toughness will be there.
SA: You mentioned Big Syl, how are you going to adjust to missing her for a few games to start the season?
PC: That will be a difficult task, but it'll be something that we're prepared for. It's a little bit different when you're in the middle of the season and someone goes down. If I would try the "glass is half full" way to look at it, surgery took place in March, so you know you have to play a certain way early on. Don't misunderstand me, you miss the double-double, you miss the screens, the speed, you miss someone that can get in eight different pick-and-roll schemes. I trust Sylvia will come back, I just have to be careful she doesn't come back too fast because she's really attacking her rehab. It'll be a great opportunity for some people to step up.
SA: You drafted Markeisha Gatling with the tenth overall pick. Why was that your choice on draft night?
PC: You know you have to be ready to go about five different directions at 10. That number is a little bit different than 6-7-8 and even 9. Then you throw into the mix injuries and trades, so we knew we had a list of about six different people that we could go in that direction. I think it became a little bit more prevalent for us because we dealt with the loss of two 5 players - not just Sylvia, but also Carolyn Swords. You don't go into it thinking that in January and February. Life happens, injuries happen and we had to be ready to move in that direction. We're fortunate enough that a player like Markeisha was available to come here and learn from one of the best post players to play the game in Tree Rollins.
SA: Last year going into the offseason the priorities were getting a backup power forward and a backup point guard. How do those positions look right now?
PC: I like the three people that are fighting for that position. You always talk about different roles and sometimes the word "role" gets a bad knock. People think they're being reduced. I wanted to look at people that come in, run the floor, space the floor, play at a pace where I'm not over there missing Courtney Vandersloot because I'm resting her. I think we have three that are going at it pretty good so it'll come down to the wire to see who can beat each other out.
SA: How does the absence of Swin Cash affect the team?
PC: Hats off to Swin and the career that she's continuing to have. I traded a number 2 pick for Swin because I value what she can do on the court and off the court. Part of it is an adjustment in basketball. You adjust to different teams, you adjust to different players, and players have to adjust to different roles. I think it's an opportunity for the Sylvia's to step up and own some things. I think in the two years that Swin was here that she planted some seeds that'll help some of those people. Most of them are game-tested and they should be ready for it, but I don't minimize that. I value what Swin brought to this team but we moved on and now some of those players that played USA Basketball, won championships abroad and gold medals are going to be counted on and they're going to have to step up.
SA: What's the goal for this season?
PC: It's always a championship, but that's just the norm. Even in the years where we did not have success, you begin with the end in mind.