Hatchell diagnosed with leukemia

Oct. 14, 2013 @ 06:54 PM

North Carolina women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell has been diagnosed with leukemia and will temporarily step back from her full coaching duties, the school announced Monday.

The 61-year-old said she will stay involved with the team’s day-to-day operations, such as planning practices, but will momentarily stop her on-the-court responsibilities.

“My veteran staff and team will be well prepared and meet any challenges until my return,” Hatchell said in a statement.

The Hall of Fame coach is entering her 28th season at UNC, where she has won the 1994 NCAA title and eight ACC Tournament championships.

She will be treated by medical oncologist Pete Voorhees and his team at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

"Sylvia remains strong and in good spirits," said Dr. Voorhees, an associate professor at UNC. “She is physically and mentally tough, and this will serve her well on her journey. We are optimistic that she will do well.”

Associate head coach Andrew Calder, Hatchell’s assistant during her entire tenure at Chapel Hill, will serve as acting head coach. Billy Lee, a Campbell men’s head coach for 18 years who is in his third year as UNC’s director of video and scouting, will be added to the coaching staff temporarily.

"Sylvia has our complete support and is in our thoughts and prayers for a full recovery," athletic director Bubba Cunningham said in a statement. "Sylvia is a fighter and her enduring spirit will aid her greatly.”

With a career record of 908-321, Hatchell is the second-winningest women’s basketball coach of all time, and she was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last month.

“I’m heartbroken for Sylvia (and her family),” UNC men’s basketball coach Roy Williams said. “I know how much Sylvia loves to coach and compete with her team so any time that she misses will be difficult. But she’s tough and she will fight this with everything she has. All of us at Carolina and all of her friends in the coaching community will support her 100 percent in this fight.”

Hatchell suspected she might have had ovarian cancer in 2000, but after doctors removed her uterus, cervix and both ovaries, she found out the tumors were benign.

Since that time, Hatchell has become a spokeswoman and a fundraiser for UNC Lineberger. She donates the profits from her blueberry patch in Black Mountain, N.C., to the center and recently made a $50,000 commitment to the N.C. Center Hospital Pediatric Oncology Endowment Fund.

"Coach Hatchell has been a tireless ambassador for our cancer center for the last 15 years,” said Shelley Earp, the director of the center. “She has helped us in countless ways. Now it is our turn to be there for her with the best care and our team's full support.”

UNC’s first exhibition is Oct. 30 against Carson-Newman, where Hatchell graduated in 1974. The season starts Nov. 8 against Air Force at Carmichael Arena.