HEELS ON EVEN KEEL

Oct. 15, 2013 @ 11:18 PM

While it’s still unclear how long North Carolina’s Sylvia Hatchell will be away, assistant Andrew Calder says that the team will be ready when its Hall of Fame coach gets back.

The program announced Monday that Hatchell is pulling back on her coaching duties temporarily to deal with treatments for leukemia. Calder is directing the team in her absence.

“Coach Hatchell as we know is a great motivator; she will be missed,” Calder said before practice Tuesday. “However, each year she evaluates the talent that she has coming in, and with her philosophy she puts together a master game plan. We’re just implementing that game plan. When she returns we will be on schedule.”

Because Calder has been Hatchell’s assistant during her entire 27-year tenure in Chapel Hill — a relationship he compared to Bill Guthridge’s 30-year partnership with Dean Smith — there won’t be any changes while Hatchell is away.

“We both have the same philosophy in how the game should be played,” Calder said. “We’re going to continue to play the game the way she wants the game to play. We’re going to fast-break and we’re going to continue to pressure. It’s going to be fun. I’ve learned a lot from her, and we’ll just implement that.”

Elon coach Charlotte Smith, the MVP of UNC’s 1994 NCAA title team and a nine-year assistant under Hatchell, said that the program is in good hands.

“With Coach Calder being there, it’s just like Coach Hatchell being there,” Smith said. “He’s been there for so long, the program won’t miss a beat Calder said Monday’s practice — the team’s first since the players were told about Hatchell’s condition — was a good start.

“They were very enthusiastic (Monday) and very focused on being the best they can be,” Calder said. “Not only for themselves but for Coach Hatchell. Every day in practice Coach Hatchell wants our team to get better, and they got better yesterday.”

Still, he acknowledged how tough it will be for UNC to prepare for the season without Hatchell, a recent Naismith inductee whose 908 wins are the second-most in women’s college basketball history.

Calder himself choked up when he recounted meeting Hatchell on Saturday and hearing about her diagnosis. Calder met with Hatchell again on Monday to review practice plans and said the 61-year-old coach “was in very high spirits.”

“Coach Hatchell’s a fighter,” Calder said. “And she will conquer this disease.”

Charlotte Smith had the same reaction after hearing that Hatchell had leukemia.

“Initially (I was) shocked, but then a sense of calm came over me knowing that I know Coach Hatchell is a fighter and I know that her faith is so super-strong,” Smith said. “At this point I’m really optimistic and hopeful for her.”