'Win one for Pokey' far from LSU players' minds

CLEVELAND -- They talk by phone at least once a day, rarely about the team, mostly about personal stuff. It could be said that Pokey Chatman is still, in some ways, coaching Sylvia Fowles.

"When I don't do well," Fowles said, "she chews me out just like when she was still here."

There are a handful of theories as to why LSU is here this weekend in the women's Final Four. Some say it's because of a team meeting that took place when everything was falling apart; others wonder if the Lady Tigers are riding the emotion to win one for former coach Pokey Chatman.

Fowles, who was loose and laughing Saturday when gabbing about two of her favorite subjects -- dunking and sewing -- turned serious when the conversation drifted to Chatman.

"I'm playing for my team," Fowles said. "I don't have any reason to play for her. Pokey's Pokey. She's always going to be there for me. I don't think I should have to play for her. There are bigger [things] in the picture besides Coach."

Apparently, there are bigger things in Cleveland this weekend than the buzz of Chatman's resignation amid allegations that she had an improper sexual relationship with a former LSU player. It took at least 30 minutes for somebody to mention the "P" word during an interview session with the players.

Fowles had made it all the way to the locker room, back to her stall in the corner, which was clogged with cameras and microphones. Across the way, guard RaShonta LeBlanc was talking about a meeting that Fowles and some players called just after Chatman resigned. They told the team back then, in early March, that the focus needed to be on basketball.

LSU erupted for double-digit victories in three of its four NCAA Tournament games.

Nowhere in the meeting was a "Win one for Coach" speech. Not for Chatman, not even for acting head coach Bob Starkey, who has publicly said he's not interested in the head coaching job after this final stop to Cleveland.

"It's not as bad as people think," said LeBlanc, who hasn't talked to Chatman since she resigned. "I haven't heard much about it since the first couple of days that it happened. A lot of people think it's brought up constantly, but it's not like that.

"I think she plays a part in [the motivation]. But we're playing for ourselves as well."

The chemistry was obvious at the end of Saturday's practice. The Lady Tigers gathered in a circle at mid-court, held hands and bowed their heads. Then they walked off the court as the LSU band played, ready for another media circus. Saturday turned out relatively tame.

But Fowles was ready for anything. When her coach resigned March 7, Fowles' reaction was that she didn't understand why. Asked Saturday if it makes any more sense now, she said, "No. I just gave up on it. I just have to move on with other things."

Despite the allegations, Chatman still remains very popular in Baton Rouge. Her Web site, coachpokey.com, is still up (it's even still linked to from the team's Web site for Sylvia Fowles, bigsyl34.com) and sparkles in purple and gold. Chatman is pumping her first on the home page, and logos of the Lady Tigers' first three trips to the national semifinals surround her.

There is no mention of the 2007 Final Four.

Chatman remains a mystery, in part because she hasn't spoken publicly. Fowles says she doesn't care if she ever knows the real story. She still wants to talk to her old coach.

"Not just because she's a good person and she recruited me," Fowles said. "Just [because] of the respect I have for her as a person."

And with that, the locker room session took another detour, and eventually turned into Fowles talking about her incredibly large hands. She held them out and smiled. The subject was back to basketball, and that's all the Lady Tigers want.

Elizabeth Merrill is a writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached at merrill2323@hotmail.com.