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The Road to the Big Dance

A lot of bad things can happen to a basketball team on the way to the NCAA tournament.

The center who's gone up for a rebound can catch somebody's flying elbow with his nose, thereby ensuring that he'll have to spend the first two rounds of the tournament getting accustomed to the protective plastic mask he'll have to wear.

Or the coach who has led the team to success can suddenly disappear under mysterious but decidedly troubling circumstances.

Pokey Chatman, the former Louisiana State University star who took over as head coach of the L.S.U. women's team in the middle of the 2003-2004 season, brought the tigers to the final four that year and the next. She has represented her country as a player and as a coach, and she has won most of the awards for which basketball mentors qualify.

Coach Chatman resigned last week amid allegations that she and a former player had had an improper relationship.

In the confusing days that followed Chatman's departure, the star of the current L.S.U. team, Sylvia Fowles, characterized her coach as "a great person" who had been like her "mom." Fowles told reporters, "No matter what people say, I'm not going to look at her any different."

I hope Coach Chatman heard that endorsement. It's a heartening sign that loyalty is not dead, even in a world where coaches routinely desert the players they've recruited to take more lucrative jobs elsewhere, and where players impatient with their minutes at the university that recruited them rush to transfer to a basketball team attached to a different school. It's also a sign that at least one L.S.U. player has become educated enough to understand that life is complicated.

This is not to suggest that events could have played out differently. Chatman resigned before the allegations of one of her assistants regarding the coach's "improper conduct" became public. Apparently she knew what she was doing.

A few unnamed L.S.U. officials have said they hope the women's team will lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday, so that the university will no longer be in the spotlight.

On the other hand, those of us inclined to support beleaguered underdogs have a new team for which to cheer.

This program aired on March 15, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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