UNC's Hatchell chases win No. 900 today

Feb. 02, 2013 @ 11:25 PM

CHAPEL HILL — Sylvia Hatchell’s coaching career almost came to a quick end.

During her second year at Francis-Marion, a small college just east of Florence, S.C., she was so upset after losing three games in a row that Hatchell said she applied for a job at UPS, which was recruiting on campus.

“They were paying good,” Hatchell said. “So I thought well, I’ll just drive a UPS truck or something, because I couldn’t handle the losing.”

Now 35 years later, Hatchell is still as competitive as ever — she received a technical foul last week against Maryland — and will admit she’s still not a good loser. It just doesn’t happen as much.

With a victory today against Duke at Carmichael Arena (1 p.m., ESPNU), Hatchell will become only the third women’s college basketball coach to win 900 games, joining retired coaches Pat Summitt (1,098) and Jody Conradt (900).

Hatchell is most known for her time at UNC, where she is 627-236 over 27 seasons and won the 1994 national championship. But her competitiveness and her philosophies date back to Francis Marion University, where she went 272-80 and won both the 1982 AIAW and the 1986 NAIA national championships.

“I didn’t just drop out of the sky at North Carolina,” Hatchell said.

At Francis Marion, she swept the floor, washed the uniforms and drove the bus. It wasn’t until her second-to-last season that she was even given a part-time assistant.

“If it got done, I did it,” Hatchell said. “That’s the price of success.”

Still, Hatchell said her time there may have been the most fun she had coaching, if not driving. One time, the team bus failed to clear the canopy at the Thunderbird Hotel in Greenwood, S.C., causing damage to the building. Another time, Hatchell said the bus couldn’t make it up a mountain road in Virginia, so she drove while the players got out and walked.

Francis Marion was also where Hatchell realized her up-tempo offense and pressure defense could be successful. She started by running the Sonny Allen fast break, in which a defender would be released up the court instead of going in for rebounds. The Lady Patriots would be among the top 18 scoring offenses nationally in all 11 seasons under Hatchell.

Andrew Calder, who has been Hatchell’s assistant coach for all 27 seasons at UNC, said that her style of play has an even greater purpose than wins and losses — it shows her desire to grow women’s basketball.

“Fans don’t want to see 42-40 basketball games,” Calder said. “They don’t want to see you throw it in, walk it up the court, run eight screens. So much of the characteristics of women’s basketball today come from her commitment to better the game.”

Francis Marion was also where Hatchell printed T-shirts for her players in her kitchen and began to devise her numerous motivational techniques and team-building exercises.

Currently, the team is reading two chapters a week from Talent is Never Enough. Hatchell also carries a group of Popsicle sticks during games, each one personalized by someone on the team — the idea being that one stick can be easily snapped, but together the sticks can’t be broken. Hatchell said she has two big boxes of tricks packed away just for tournament time.

But the coach also knows how to motivate through direct words. Senior Krista Gross said her favorite Hatchell saying comes after she hears people complaining: “Wa wa wa. Put your big girl panties on and deal with it.”

“She tells you what you need to hear, whether you want to hear it or not,” Gross said. “But it’s in that sense that she’s making you better.”

Elon coach Charlotte Smith, who hit the winning shot in the ‘94 NCAA final and was an assistant at UNC from 2002-11, said that Hatchell hasn’t changed.

“If she has to carry posters around in the back of her van to market her team, she does that,” Smith said. “There’s no shame in her game. She’s a humble, down-to-earth person, that’s what I love about her.”

Hatchell doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Though the Tar Heels missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time since 2001 and started this season unranked, the team is now up to No. 11 in the AP poll and has four of ESPN’s Top 25 recruits coming in next season.

“I’m out here with these kids at practice and I feel like I’m 25,” said Hatchell, who turns 61 on Feb. 28. “Then I look in the mirror and I go, ‘Who is that?’”

Hatchell said she plans on celebrating her 900-win milestone with a “gratitude” tour after the season, in which she’ll thank all the people who gave her the opportunity to coach.

She’ll start with Tommy Northern, the principal at the Talbott School, where Hatchell coached 7th and 8th graders while finishing up her B.S. degree at Carson-Newman. Then she’ll go 30 miles down the road and see Summitt, who was the varsity coach at Tennessee when Hatchell was getting her masters at the school and coaching the J.V. team.

Hatchell will then go to meet president Walter D. Smith and athletic director Gerald Griffin at Francis Marion, and finish up with the chancellor and AD when she came to UNC, Paul Harden and current ACC commissioner John Swofford.

Then Hatchell will return to Chapel Hill and prepare for next season. At this point, she couldn’t imagine doing any other job.

“The toughness, the tenaciousness to have that kind of longevity is off the charts,” said UNC men’s basketball coach Roy Williams, who has 690 wins in 25 seasons. “You have to have the stamina and the will to keep doing it every single day, every single month, every single year. I can’t even perceive that.”