Hatchell, UNC's sidelined coach, hopes for early return
With her leukemia in remission, North Carolina women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell hopes to be back on the court before the end of the season.
“I’m hoping to make it back by tournament time, but if not, surely next year,” Hatchell said Wednesday at a meeting of the Raleigh Sports Club. “I’ll be good to go in a couple months for sure.”
Hatchell, who has stepped back from on-court coaching since undergoing chemotherapy at the UNC Lineberger Cancer Center, was making her first public speaking engagement since being diagnosed with leukemia three months ago.
While she couldn’t risk infection by shaking hands or accepting congratulatory hugs from members of the audience, Hatchell gave an energetic, hour-long talk — going over the scheduled end time by more than 20 minutes.
The Hall of Fame coach said she will be going back to the UNC Cancer Center today for six treatments over five days to ensure that the cancer doesn’t come back. She will have one or two more consolidation treatments after this week, and then her doctors will determine when she can return to the court.
The ACC Tournament will take place March 5-9 in Greensboro, and UNC’s Carmichael Arena will host NCAA Tourmament first- and second-round games on March 23 and 25.
Though Hatchell hasn’t been on the sidelines during games — longtime assistant Andrew Calder has taken over those duties — Hatchell has been been attending home games, meeting with players and reviewing practice tapes.
She said she spent all day Tuesday in her office at Carmichael Arena and then taped her weekly radio show that night.
Despite the Tar Heels’ youth — they start four freshmen and don’t have a senior on the roster — the team is 14-3 and ranked ninth heading into tonight’s home game against Clemson (6 p.m., ESPN3.com).
“It is tough not to be out there, especially when you’re starting four freshmen and a sophomore,” Hatchell said. “But that’s my motivation. It’s exciting to be around those kids — they make me feel better.”
Hatchell said she’s still overwhelmed by the feedback she’s received during the past few months.
“It’s unbelievable, all the people that I’ve heard from,” said Hatchell, who was speaking at the same time that President Barack Obama was appearing at nearby N.C. State. “I’ve heard from about everybody in the United States expect for that person speaking about two miles down the road.”
Hatchell, who maintains a daily workout routine with a trainer, credited her fitness level, her positive attitude and early detection for her recovery so far. After feeling fatigued and having a low white blood cell count detected during a routine physical, Hatchell proactively went to the UNC Cancer Center to get a bone marrow biopsy done. After the results came back, she began treatments the next day.
During her talk, Hatchell passed out t-shirts with motivational slogans such as “It all starts with the right attitude” and “Winners train, losers complain.”
“I’ve preached this stuff forever. I’m having to live it right now,” Hatchell said. “These things really come in handy because they help me every day.”