DEERFIELD – Sylvia Fowles was green when Pokey Chatman first saw her play basketball, a lanky 6-foot-6 freshman at Edison High School in Miami with a basketball body and a curiosity on the court that Chatman knew could make Fowles an eternal student of the game.
Fowles had just started playing organized ball, but that didn’t deter Chatman, then the women’s basketball coach at LSU and now Fowles’ coach with the WNBA’s Sky. Fowles’ abilities were clear, and her potential was enormous.
Ten years after Chatman’s scouting trip and a storied career at LSU, Fowles is leading the WNBA in field goal percentage (.584) and blocks (2.08). Fowles is second in scoring (20.1), rebounds (10.0) and minutes played (34.8).
The gold Chatman found all those years ago just needed to be polished.
“Once we realized she started playing so late and how quickly she was developing, we were like, ‘Wow,’ ” Chatman said. “On top of that, she played for a really good [high school] coach, and they just pushed them. She’s a player that, if you told Sylvia to be there at 7 for video, she’d show up at 6:45. She’s hungry, she wants to learn, and I think that’s what will get her over the top.”
Fowles, the No. 2 pick in the 2008 WNBA draft, admitted she didn’t have big basketball dreams.
Being among the WNBA leaders in several categories four seasons into her professional career is nice, but the humble star didn’t begin thinking about professional basketball until late in high school.
Fowles won two Florida state titles with Edison and another at Gulliver Prep, and realized she had major potential.
“Basketball was something I thought I might want to do as a professional job,” Fowles said. “I went to a great college and played for great coaches, and ... here at Chicago, the first two years were kind of down, but ... this year I’m at where I’m at and there’s still a long way to go.”
Fowles was injured for the start of her 2008 rookie season but returned in July and helped the U.S. win an Olympic gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Games.
She missed 10 games again in 2009 with ankle and shoulder injuries, and hoped the 2010 season would be her breakout year.
The Sky, an expansion team in 2006, nearly made the 2010 playoffs, and are 11-14 this year. Fowles credits her teammates first for the team’s improvement.
“I think the unique thing about our team is that everyone knows their role,” said Fowles, who picked up her second Eastern Conference Player of the Week nod Monday. She averaged 25 points and 13.7 rebounds in three games.
Rookie point guard Courtney Vandersloot has added stability to the backcourt, and guard Epiphanny Prince has done a masterful job backing her up. Shooting guard and forward Catherine Kraayeveld is dangerous behind the arc, and Fowles and 10-year veteran Michelle Snow feed off one another in the post.
Fowles is on pace to be the second player in WNBA history to average a double-double. Chamique Holdsclaw did it in Washington in 2003. Vandersloot is leading all rookies in assists with 4.7 a game, and is fifth in scoring among rookies with 8.7 points a game. Prince leads the league in steals, averaging 3.3.
Chatman is glad to have the promising talent on the roster, and she is thrilled to have coached Fowles for several years.
The two worked together at LSU for three seasons, and Chatman coached Fowles again in Russia for the Euro-League’s Spartak Moscow team that won the EuroLeague Championship in 2010.
“She doesn’t have to adjust to a new coach and a new style,” Chatman said. “She can kind of run in terms of what I like and what I expect, and how things are going to be run. There are things she can help me with, too, that she doesn’t even realize.
“In that sense, I think it’s helped her comfort level, and it’s helped her ... confidence.”