North Carolina head coach Sylvia Hatchell solidified her place among the legends of basketball when she was chosen for induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a member of the class of 2013.
Hatchell’s career record of 975-358 puts her second among active women’s coach and third in the history of the sport to the legendary Pat Summitt and Stanford’s Tara Vanderveer in career victories. With a 703-278 mark at Carolina, Hatchell stands as one of only two coaches - along with former Virginia coach Debbie Ryan - to reach the 700-win mark at an Atlantic Coast Conference school.
Beyond the sheer magnitude of wins, Hatchell’s credentials are sterling. She was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2004, has been named national coach of the year three times and has led teams to at least 20 wins 31 times, fourth-most nationally.
While Hatchell keeps impressive company in many categories, she is also part of an exclusive club that features just one member. When UNC defeated Louisiana Tech to win the 1994 NCAA Championship, Hatchell became the first and only coach to lead teams to national championships at the AIAW, NAIA and NCAA levels. Those titles - the first two coming at Francis Marion - are the crown jewels in one of the most decorated coaching careers in women’s basketball history.
Though Hatchell’s highly-regarded coaching career has made her a pillar in the sport of basketball, more recently she is best known for her battle with leukemia that forced her to the sidelines for the entire 2013-14 season. Only weeks removed from induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Hatchell was diagnosed with leukemia in October 2013.
Hatchell went through a series of chemotherapy treatments that lasted into March 2014, the same time her Tar Heel team clawed its way to the Elite 8 and was minutes away from a spot in the NCAA Final Four, before falling to Stanford on its home court in the Regional Final. There was hope that Hatchell would rejoin the team if Carolina had reached the Finals Four in Nashville, Tennessee.
In May 2014, Hatchell’s doctor announced that she had completed all treatments and would be back on the bench for the 2014-15 campaign. And in typical program fashion, the Tar Heels had another outstanding season, posting a 26-9 record and a No. 9 final ranking.
Hatchell continues to be an adamant supporter of the fight against cancer with help from her teammates at UNC Lineberger Cancer Center. Hatchell fills her calendar with numerous speaking engagements to raise money and awareness of the deadly disease.
In June 2016, her book Fight! Fight!: Discover Your Inner Strength When Blindsided by Life was released to rave reviews, and within days became the No. 1 Amazon new release in the “cancer books” category.
“I wrote this book because I wanted to help other people as they go through difficult times,” Hatchell said. “People are going through some extremely trying things in life, and I’m always inspired by the courage and boldness that they display. All I want to be is a guide for others as they face some unfathomable challenges in life.”
Since coming to Chapel Hill in 1986, Hatchell has forged a tradition of excellence at Carolina. Under her direction, the Tar Heels have won a national championship and eight ACC titles, compiled six 30-win seasons and claimed five ACC Player of the Year and seven ACC Rookie of the Year honors. “With the reputation of the school, the image, the location and the athletic programs - including the men’s basketball program - I knew we could build a tremendous women’s basketball program here,” Hatchell says.
While that 1994 championship season, which capped back-to-back 30-win seasons, marked Carolina as a player on the national scene, Hatchell and the Tar Heels have surged to the forefront of that scene in recent years. Since the beginning of the 2004-05 season, UNC has compiled a record of 279-69, won four Atlantic Coast Conference titles and made two Final Four appearances.
With Hatchell away from the team in her normal capacity in 2013-14, associate head coach Andrew Calder guided the club to a 27-10 record and a No. 4 seed in the Stanford Region. The Tar Heels appeared in the Elite 8 for the seventh time in program history, defeated No. 1 seed South Carolina in the regional semifinals and swept Duke in the regular season for the first time in six years.
The 2012-13 season saw Carolina reclaim its position as one of the top teams in America. The Tar Heels finished with a record of 29-7 that featured a Preseason WNIT championship and a run to the ACC Tournament title game. UNC received the No. 3 seed in the NCAA Bridgeport Region, its highest NCAA seed since earning four consecutive No. 1 seeds from 2005-08.
The 2007-08 campaign featured a Carolina first under Hatchell - the Tar Heels completed an undefeated ACC regular season. In addition to winning all 14 regular season contests, the Tar Heels brought home a fourth-straight tournament crown by defeating Duke, 86-73. UNC earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight postseason and advanced to the Elite Eight.
Hatchell’s Tar Heels were among the nation’s best throughout the 2006-07 season, which saw Carolina establish a school record for wins with 34. UNC opened the campaign with a 24-game winning streak, the best start to a season in school history. Along the way the Tar Heels defeated national powers Tennessee and Connecticut as well as defending national champion Maryland. March saw Carolina win its third ACC championship in as many years and advance to the Final Four for the third time in program history.
The 2005-06 season was one of the most successful in program history and Hatchell was honored accordingly. The Tar Heels earned the program’s first in-season No. 1 ranking, won a second-consecutive ACC title and reached the Final Four. Hatchell was honored as national coach of the year by the Associated Press, the WBCA and Basketball Times. She also received the Naismith Award and was named ACC Coach of the Year.
Among the players Hatchell has coached during her career are Charlotte Smith, a national player of the year whose last-second shot won the 1994 national championship and who now coaches Elon University; Marion Jones, the point guard on the 1994 team; forward Tracy Reid, a two-time ACC Player of the Year and the 1998 WNBA Rookie of the Year; and Ivory Latta, the 2006 national player of the year and a two-time WNBA All-Star with Washington. Other former Tar Heels with WNBA experience are Nikki Teasley, who hit the winning shot as the Los Angeles Sparks won the 2002 league championship and was named MVP of the 2003 WNBA All-Star Game; Coretta Brown, who played for the Chicago Sky; La’Tangela Atkinson, a first-round draft pick in 2006; Camille Little, another first-round pick who won a WNBA title with Seattle; Erlana Larkins, a consensus All-America in 2008 who won a WNBA title with Indiana; LaToya Pringle, UNC’s career leader in blocks; Jessica Breland, who bravely returned from a battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma to lead the 2010-11 Tar Heels to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen; and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, who went from undrafted free agent to key contributor for the WNBA’s Washington Mystic in 2013.
In preparation for a career in coaching, Hatchell earned a B.S. degree in physical education and health from Carson-Newman in 1974. While at Carson-Newman, in addition to playing basketball and volleyball, Hatchell coached the Talbott School girls’ basketball team to a winning season and a trip to the playoffs. She then spent a year coaching the junior varsity women’s team and earning a master’s degree at the University of Tennessee.
Prior to taking over the Tar Heel program, Hatchell guided Francis Marion to a 272-80 mark over 11 seasons. She coached the 1986 Lady Patriots to a remarkable 36-2 record and a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics national championship. Her 1982 team was her first national championship squad, as Francis Marion captured the AIAW small college division crown.
In 1984, the Lady Patriots posted a 28-5 record, advancing to the quarterfinals of the NAIA national tournament, and received the Fellowship of Christian Athletes National Team Sportsmanship Award. Under Hatchell’s direction, Francis Marion routinely led the nation in scoring and the Lady Patriots were never ranked lower than 18th during her 11 seasons. In 1993, Hatchell was inducted into the Francis Marion University Athletic Hall of Fame.
Hatchell’s collegiate success is only a part of her impressive head coaching resume. In August 1995, she led the U.S. to a silver medal at the World University Games in Fukuoka, Japan. Former Tar Heels Sylvia Crawley and Charlotte Smith were key members of the team, and Marion Jones was named to the team but broke a bone in her foot and could not compete.
During the summer of 1994, Hatchell directed the United States team to the gold medal in the R. William Jones Cup. The team’s 8-0 record included a 76-67 win over Canada and a 90-89 overtime victory against Korea in the championship game. Hatchell also has extensive international experience as an assistant coach of U.S. women’s teams. She was an assistant coach for the U.S. team that claimed the gold medal at the 1988 Olympic Games and served in the same capacity for the 1986 U.S. national women’s squad that won gold medals at both the Goodwill Games and World Championships. In fact, she was at training camp with that national team at Eastern Michigan University when she received the call from Swofford informing her that she would be Carolina’s next coach.
Hatchell’s stints in international competition also include serving as an assistant coach for the U.S. World University Games team that won the gold medal in 1983 and the team that won a silver medal in 1985. She was a court coach at the U.S. Olympic basketball tryouts in both 1984 and 1992 and also worked on the Olympic Games basketball events staff in Los Angeles in 1984. In her initial task for the Amateur Basketball Association of the United States of America, she coached the South team to the gold medal at the 1982 National Sports Festival. In 1979, Hatchell joined legendary Maryland coach Chris Weller to coach the East All-Stars at the Hanes All-American Classic. The West team was led by Jody Conradt of Texas and Sonja Hogg of Louisiana Tech.
In addition to her national coach of the year honors, Hatchell’s long list of coaching awards includes the 1986 Converse NAIA Regional Coach of the Year and the 1986 AMF Voit Championship Coach Award. In 1995, she was named College Basketball Coach of the Year by Athletes International Ministries.
Actively involved in shaping the sport of women’s basketball, Hatchell served as president of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association during the 1996-97 season.
Hatchell graduated cum laude from Carson-Newman College, where she played basketball and volleyball. In March 1994, she was honored as the Carson-Newman Distinguished Alumnus of the Year and in 1999 she was inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame. In the summer of 2009, Hatchell had the honor of being inducted into both the North Carolina and South Carolina Sports Halls of Fame.
Hatchell’s husband, Sammy, is also a basketball coach. Formerly the all-time winningest coach at Meredith College in Raleigh, Sammy is currently the associate head coach of the Shaw University women’s team that won the 2012 Division II national title. Fittingly, the couple met at a summer league basketball game and attended a basketball clinic on their first date. They married two years later, in 1979. Sammy helps run the North Carolina basketball camps each summer.
The Hatchells have a son, Van, a former all-state and Carolina men’s basketball player who is a graduate of UNC.
“Van has grown up around our players and staff and Sammy has known them all as long as I have,” Hatchell says. “So instead of having a family of three, Van and Sammy and I have a family of 20.”