Chatman enjoying success as a temp

  • Scott M. Johnson / Herald Writer
  • Friday, March 26, 2004 9:00pm
  • Sports

SEATTLE – In the landscape that is the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, it’s difficult to imagine a greater chasm than the one separating Jody Conradt and Dana “Pokey” Chatman.

Conradt is a legend in women’s basketball circles, having won 847 games in 28 seasons as a head coach. Chatman is still looking for her first “official” win at Louisiana State.

If the NCAA tournament is all about experience, the top-seeded Longhorns should be about a 50-point favorite over LSU, the West’s No. 4 seed.

Just don’t tell that to Conradt, a legendary coach who would be making her fourth trip to the Final Four if the Longhorns can win two games in Seattle.

“It’s probably less about the coach than it is the team at this point in time,” Conradt said Friday as Texas prepared to face LSU in one of tonight’s West Region semifinals at Hec Edmundson Pavilion. “I don’t want my administrators to hear this, but I think coaching is overrated this time of year.”

Texas enters the Sweet 16 as the West Region favorite, but all four teams have a legitimate shot of moving on to New Orleans. The top four seeds are at the Bank of America Arena for tonight’s regional semifinals, which begin at 6 p.m.

If there is a longshot in the bunch, that would be LSU. Part of the reason is Chatman, who took over the Tigers’ sideline duties in January but still isn’t considered the head coach.

Sue Gunter, a 62-year-old coach who is still seeking her first trip to the Final Four, stopped coaching the team on game days on Jan. 4, and six weeks later she officially stepped aside to let Chatman run the team.

An acute lung problem has afflicted Gunter for most of the season, and a bout with bronchitis eventually forced her to set the whistle down. She still attends practices and talks often with Chatman, but Gunter will watch today’s game on television from her home in Baton Rouge, La.

The Tigers are 14-5 with Chatman in charge, but all of those victories have officially been added to Gunter’s record. In fact, Gunter was credited with her 700th career victory on Feb. 12, a game Chatman coached.

Chatman, a former player who spent the past 12 seasons as an assistant at LSU, is taking her temporary promotion in stride.

“I guess I have to look at myself as the acting head coach,” said Chatman, who is 34 years old. “I’m forced to think about that (because of the media attention LSU gets) the further we go in this tournament. Honestly, with the task at hand, I just look at myself as the associate coach, doing the job that is necessary.”

It’s not like Chatman has been left on an island. Gunter still advises her – so often, in fact, that Chatman jokingly threatened to turn off her cell phone.

While Chatman now has two NCAA tournament games under her belt, she still has 46 to go to catch Conradt.

The Texas coach since 1983, Conradt ranks seventh in tournament history in appearances (48) and sixth in wins (30). She is one of just two active coaches – in men’s or women’s basketball – who have more than 840 career wins (the other is Tennessee women’s coach Pat Summitt).

“Coach has been in every situation that a coach can be in,” Texas junior Heather Schreiber said. “She knows what teams go through at this point in the season.”

Conradt, 63, isn’t the only veteran coach who will have a vested interest in tonight’s Texas-LSU game. Chances are, another experienced basketball mind will be doing some coaching from her couch in Baton Rouge.

“Getting Coach Gunter to her first Final Four is definitely a key for us,” LSU guard Seimone Augustus said.

Seeing as how the Final Four is in nearby New Orleans next weekend, it’s a good bet Gunter would be there to see it first-hand.

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