On Tuesday night, while most of America's eyes will watch the Connecticut Huskies' Geno Auriemma go for his 1,000 wins, there will be another coach who is also on the verge of the same milestone...
North Carolina's Sylvia Hatchell.
Hatchell, who has patrolled the Tar Heel sidelines for the last 32 seasons (she spent her first 11 seasons at Francis Marion), has made quite an impression amongst her peers for her resilience and coaching skill. Among those who professed a deep respect for Hatchell was South Carolina's Dawn Staley, who mentioned Hatchell and Auriemma as two of the best women's basketball has ever seen.
"They are legends of our game," Staley said of Hatchell and Auriemma. "They have contributed so much. Especially to some of the younger coaches who are striving to be as good as they are at what they do."
When it comes to competitive fire, there have been very few coaches who display it like Hatchell. Ask Elon head coach Charlotte Smith.
Smith, who made the most important shot in North Carolina women's basketball history to win the 1994 NCAA Championship, was one of Hatchell's frequent visitors when she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 2013. One thing that did not rest, according to Smith, was Hatchell's fight to win at everything she did.
"She never would put on hospital clothes. She refused to," Smith recalled of Hatchell's insistence on wearing athletic gear during her lengthy hospital stay. "We would walk together, and she was outpacing me in the walks she would take.”
“The title of her book ("Fight! Fight! Discovering Your Inner Strength When Blindsided by Life") speaks to who she is. She's always been a fighter, and that's something she's instilled in all of us," stated Smith.
While sidelined, Hatchell consulted with assistant Andrew Calder, who coached the team in her absence. That season, Calder led the team to a 27-10 record and to the Elite Eight (all of which is on Hatchell's record).
Hatchell has never made it a secret that she loves to win. And she thinks she still has a lot left to give at 64. At the same time, she also wants her players to get some shine as well, and have fun while doing it.
“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.”
As much as she may love winning, her current and former players know that Hatchell's love for the game has been the overall driving force to her longevity and success.
"But at the end of the day, a number is meaningless to her," Smith said. "It's more about her love of the game and for people. I'm just proud of her heart and her passion for the game. It takes a lot of both to be in this business for that amount of time."
Hatchell and the North Carolina Tar Heels will face Grambling State Tuesday afternoon in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Tip-off is set for 2 pm ET.