New UNC coach Courtney Banghart climbs onto the basket after the 2019 Ivy League championship with Princeton
As North Carolina searched for a new women’s basketball coach to replace Hall of Famer Sylvia Hatchell, one name kept popping up.
The 40-year-old Princeton coach had made a name for herself in the Ivy League and across the country after turning a program which had never made it to an NCAA tournament into one that was almost always there.
Meanwhile, North Carolina went three seasons without an NCAA tournament appearance from 2016 to 2018. This year’s team went 18-15 and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament under Hall of Fame coach Sylvia Hatchell before plunging into turmoil.
But with wins over then-No. 1 Notre Dame and then-No. 7 N.C. State in the regular season, Banghart said she saw talent.
“This is not a place that is broken by any stretch,” she said. “This is a place that’s had some stress. That’s had some disruption. I’m here to help through that.”
Hatchell, who spent 33 seasons at UNC and won a national title in 1994, resigned on April 18 amid an internal investigation and allegations of player mistreatment and racially insensitive comments. North Carolina has not made the full results of that investigation public.
When asked in a teleconference Tuesday was there a concerted effort to have a coach without previous ties to UNC or Hatchell, North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham said “we were looking for the absolute best coach we could find and Courtney rose to the top.”
“Her development of players, her winning on the court, her classroom commitment to the whole student experience made her the best choice to build on the great Carolina basketball tradition that coach Hatchell has built over the past 30 years,” Cunningham said.
Banghart played college basketball at Dartmouth from 1996 to 2000. She was a two-time first-team All-Ivy selection and her 273 career 3-pointers was an Ivy League record. After college, she immediately went into coaching, where she rose quickly.
She spent three years as the athletic director and women’s basketball coach at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va., before becoming an assistant coach at her alma mater in 2003.
After four years there as an assistant, she got a call from then-Princeton athletic director Gary Walters asking if she wanted to be considered for the job.
Banghart was hired at Princeton in 2007. Before that, the Tigers had never made it to an NCAA tournament. During her first two years at Princeton, her teams missed the NCAA tournament but continued to improve. In her third season there, her team finished 26-3 and 14-0 in the Ivy League, earning its first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament.
Banghart was 245-103 in 12 seasons at Princeton, and made it to the NCAA tournament in eight of the last 10 years (and the Women’s NIT in the other two).
“She’s going from one very competitive league to another. Very different, apples to oranges, but I think Courtney is intrinsically very competitive,” Harvard coach Cathy Delaney-Smith said. “So I think that’s going to matter.”
Banghart’s teams were 1-8 in the NCAA tournament. Her lone tournament win came during the 2014-15 season. Her team finished 31-1 and lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Banghart, who won the Naismith national coach of the year award that season, said she was content at Princeton and would have only left if the school was the right fit. North Carolina was that.
She said she has aspirations to win a national championship.
“I’m a winner,” Banghart said. “I’ve been able to amass the right people and I’ve been able to lead them further than they could go alone. That’s what will happen at Carolina.”
North Carolina women’s basketball team has struggled in recent years. From 2001 to 2015, the Tar Heels made it to the NCAA tournament in all but one year. Over the past four years, they made it only once.
Banghart met with her new players as a group for 45 minutes on Wednesday. One of the biggest challenges she will likely face is convincing those currently in the program to stay. One player, Destinee Walker, has transferred to Notre Dame, and several others placed their names in the NCAA transfer portal after the season ended. Banghart said she will talk all of her players individually in the next few days.
On the court, Banghart said her team is going to be “gritty” defensively, and will share the ball on offense. But she said they’ll also have fun doing it.
“This is an extracurricular activity until I’m told otherwise,” Banghart said. “So it’s an additive experience and I’m going to treat it like that.”