The highlight reel of Sylvia Hatchell’s coaching career is almost always climaxed with Charlotte Smith’s buzzer beater in the closing seconds of the 1994 NCAA Championship Game.
Sunday the culmination of 27 years as the women’s basketball coach at the University of North Carolina were recognized, as she was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
“You can’t take any of the championships away, but for a career, there’s nothing any better,” Hatchell said prior to the induction. “You can’t get any better than this. Every morning I wake up, I roll my eyes, and I think, ‘Am I really going into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame?’ This is what every coach dreams of.”
Inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2004, she said that was special because she did her graduate studies in Knoxville at the University of Tennessee, where she also coached the junior varsity team. Pat Summitt was supposed to be her presenter to the Hall Sunday, but was unable to attend, paving the way for Nancy Lieberman and Hubie Brown to have the honor.
This past season, Hatchell became the third women’s coach to win 900 games, joining Summitt and Jody Conradt. She is the only coach to win national titles at the AIAW, NAIA and NCAA levels, the first two coming at Francis Marion in 1982 and 1986. Aside from her 1994 title win over Louisiana Tech, she guided the Tar Heels to the Final Four in 2006 and 2007, and they have collected eight Atlantic Coast Conference championships. Three times she was named NCAA Coach of the Year and was an assistant under Kay Yow on the 1988 U.S. Olympic team that captured the gold medal in Seoul.
After all of those accolades, Hatchell is still looking towards the future.
“I’ve got a really good freshman class coming in,” she said, “no seniors, we’re very young, but we have the foundations for a really special group. I want to win a few more championships, and I want to see the women’s game continue to advance, as far as the rules, scoring, skill level, mentoring younger coaches. My first goal is always to win for the University of North Carolina, but my second goal is to make the game better. I’m really concerned about where the game is right now, and there are things we can do to make it better.”
Her former players include Sylvia Crawley, Marion Jones, Nikki Teasley, Camille Little, Tracy Reid, and Erlana Larkins to name a few. This season, Hatchell will also welcome Ivory Latta to the coaching staff, who was recently named an All-Star for the Washington Mystics. Smith, the Most Outstanding Player of the 1994 Final Four, is the head coach at Elon University.
“Someone told me I have 28 former players coaching,” Hatchell said. “I can’t wait to get Ivory in, I love having my former players working for me. They’re so loyal, such role models for the players.”
One of the obstacles for Hatchell during her early years in Chapel Hill was a feisty 5-foot-5 point guard playing for Debbie Ryan at conference rival Virginia named Dawn Staley, who was a fellow inductee to the Hall Sunday.
“She’s an ACC great,” said Staley, who now coaches the University of South Carolina. “I played in the ACC, it says a lot about the ACC. I coach in the SEC right now, but if you go back to how we got here, there are times when I was at Virginia and Sylvia was at North Carolina, and for her to still be coaching and winning games is an incredible feat. If you get inducted, you want to get inducted with people like Sylvia, Rick Pitino and others, these are living legends.”
As one of the pioneers of women's basketball, Hatchell will forever be enshrined with peers Summitt, Conradt, Yow, Sue Gunter, Vivian Stringer, and Tara VanDerveer for making the game what it is today.