If North Carolina women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell wins her 1,000th game Tuesday, it will happen in a place that almost is as dear to her as Chapel Hill — Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
For the past 23 seasons, Hatchell has taken her Tar Heel squad to Myrtle Beach for a holiday excursion and a couple of basketball games.
“We go there every Christmas and play,” said Hatchell, who also owns a beach house there. “This is 24 years. We have great crowds down there. A lot of people come out and we’ve had some really, really good games down there. The kids love going down there so it’s become a huge tradition for us.”
UNC, which has been in Myrtle Beach since Friday, played its first game of the trip on Sunday against Washington. That 90-78 victory gave Hatchell win No. 999. She’ll get her first try at 1,000 at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 19 against Grambling State. If the Tar Heels (9-2) prevail, Hatchell will become the fourth coach to reach that plateau. Later Tuesday, Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma also can join the club if the Huskies beat Oklahoma.
Hatchell, who is in her 32nd season at UNC and 43rd overall, said she hadn’t been aware that she and Auriemma would each have a chance to win their 1,000th game on the same day.
“I didn’t know that but this is a good thing, a real good thing,” Hatchell said.
Hatchell and Auriemma are tied for fourth on the all-time wins list in college basketball. Pat Summitt holds the record with 1,098 wins with the Tennessee women’s team. Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski is second with 1,082 on the men’s side. Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer is next on the list with 1,017 wins with the Cardinal women.
Hatchell, who has been a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame since 2013, also is only one of two coaches with at least 700 wins at an ACC school. Former Virginia coach Debbie Ryan is the other. Ryan won 739 games in 34 years at UVa., Hatchell’s mark at UNC is 727-286.
Among her most memorable wins, Hatchell said, was the Tar Heels’ 1994 national championship when Charlotte Smith hit a 3-pointer as time expired to give UNC a 60-59 win over Louisiana Tech. The ball was inbounded to Smith with .7 seconds left on the clock, making it one of the most dramatic finishes in tournament history.
“You look a the ’94 championship, without a doubt,” Hatchell said, was one of her favorite wins. “It’s one of the greatest accomplishments with the least amount of time, probably ever, especially in women’s basketball. That one’s hard to beat. I can tell you some of my best wins and I can tell you some of my worst losses. I don’t forget’em and I can tell you who was refereeing them, too.”
Hatchell also has eight ACC championship teams, including a four-year run of consecutive titles from 2005-08.
Hatchell, who began her career at Francis Marion in Florence, South Carolina, won her first 272 games at the school and a pair of national titles. She is the first and only coach to lead teams to national championships at the AIAW, NAIA and NCAA levels.
Hatchell’s first team at UNC went 19-10 in 1986-87, then it was four straight years of losing seasons. But beginning in the 1991-92 season, Hatchell strung together four 20-plus win season, including a pair of 30-win efforts. In 1993-94 the Tar Heels posted a 33-2 mark en route to the NCAA title. In all, Hatchell has had six 30-win seasons with the Tar Heels. Her most wins in a season at UNC is 34 in 2006-07. Her most wins in a season came in the 1985-86 campaign, her final at Francis Marion, where her squad finished 36-2.
Hatchell said she couldn’t compare winning her first 100 games with what it took to win her last 100 leading to 1,000.
“For the first 100, I didn’t have any assistant coaches,” Hatchell said. “It was just me. I was at Francis Marion for 11 years and in my last two years I had a part-time assistant. In those nine years, if it needed to be done, I did it.”
Along the way, Hatchell said she had some great mentors, including Summitt and Kay Yow at N.C. State. Early in her career, Hatchell said she took every opportunity to work summer camps to learn as much as she could about the game of basketball.
“I was really close to Pat,” Hatchell said. “I got to be good friends with a lot of men’s coaches and I learned a lot from them. I went to every clinic I could find, you know eight or 10 a summer all over the United States. Just whatever I could do to learn basketball, I would do it.”
She includes legendary UNC men’s coach Dean Smith in that group, too.
Hatchell said she is glad to be part of the ACC. In her early days, the big rivalries were with N.C. State, Maryland and Virginia. Now it is Duke, Notre Dame and still N.C. State. She thinks the league is as strong as it has ever been.
“You knew if you were good enough to play for the ACC championship in a year, you could make a run at the Final Four,” Hatchell said. “That’s still true.”
But Hatchell said her biggest victories surely have come off the court.
Four years ago Hatchell battled leukemia. And during that time, UNC drew a lot of scrutiny because of alleged academic improprieties linked to the athletic department. The women’s basketball team drew some of the harshest criticism from investigators.
Hatchell survived both and she now feels she is stronger than ever. Hatchell said she’s been cancer free now for three years. She’s got one more bone marrow scan to go but all of her recent ones have been clear.
And with the academic scandal also in the rearview mirror with no action by the NCAA, Hatchell said she feels reinvigorated.
“You know, I’m healthy as can be now,” Hatchell said. “I’m beating the worst kind of leukemia. I went through the NCAA, where you know the right thing happened and worked out. But yet, we still took a hit for what we hadn’t done. We persevered through it and you know we’re on the other side of it. A lot of great things are out there in front of us.”
Hatchell said she could envision coaching several more years but wouldn’t give a definitive number.
“My thing now is how much fun I have in it,” Hatchell said. “But I’m not finished. I want more. You know I’m greedy. I want more championships. I want more rings and all that stuff. I want to give my players the experiences that I’ve had. I’ve had some unbelievable points with championships and everything like that. I want to give my players some of that.”