Banghart ready for challenge of turning around Tar Heels
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Courtney Banghart knows she has lot of work ahead to overhaul a North Carolina women’s basketball program that has been dealing with concerns on and off the court.
Banghart took over in the spring for the Tar Heels’ first coaching change since 1986. She’s charged with restoring a program that has gone from regularly contending for Atlantic Coast Conference championships to struggling to keep up in a league featuring national powers Notre Dame and Louisville.
She’s also replacing a Hall of Fame coach with more than 1,000 wins before resigning after an investigation highlighted concerns over player treatment.
Banghart, 41, isn’t deterred by those challenges entering Thursday’s opener against Western Carolina. Rather, she’s focused on building a new foundation in every area, down to details such as the right angle for a player to set a solid screen.
“This is our program now, the people that are here,” Banghart told The Associated Press. “And our job is to take care of it while we have it, right? We have all different types of people in this program and (they) have all responded differently to the change, but they’ve all been really welcoming.
“I think they’ve accepted it and they’re hungry to meet my standard. Yeah, there needed to be new standards. And I’m putting them in place.”
Banghart — a former Dartmouth player with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience and a master’s in writing and leadership development — regularly won Ivy League titles and reached the NCAA Tournament during 12 years at Princeton.
Her new program has tradition, yet needs a significant course change.
The Tar Heels have a national championship (1994), three Final Four trips and nine ACC titles. Yet they are 62-65 over the past four years, including 22-49 against league opponents.
Last year’s team upset then-No. 1 Notre Dame followed by then-No. 7 North Carolina State as the nation’s last unbeaten team before returning to the NCAAs for the first time since 2015. Yet in April, Sylvia Hatchell resigned as coach after an external investigation of the program found she made “racially insensitive” comments and pressured players to compete through medical issues. The review also reported a “breakdown of connectivity” between Hatchell and the players, with four transferring out.
Banghart didn’t dwell on those issues when meeting UNC’s players.
“I’m so forward-thinking, I just didn’t ask,” Banghart said. “I don’t want to give it legs, like: ‘How did you feel about last year’s team?’ or ‘What was your role on last year’s team?’ or ‘How did you feel about your previous coaches?’ I just don’t know what that gets me.
“It’s more of: ‘What do you want from your career? How can I help you get there?’”
Senior Taylor Koenen said that message stood out.
“Individually she really wants us to grow and I think that’s a big thing, too,” Koenen said, adding: “Now she’s trying to teach us how to grow into roles ... that were different with coach Hatchell and now with her.”
Still, Banghart isn’t going easy on her new players.
“She’s tough,” junior Janelle Bailey said. “She has a bubbly spirit no matter what, but there’s times where she really gets on us. ... We need both bubbly-refreshing, and we also need someone to get on us because that’s only something that’s going to help us get better.”
And Banghart has a lengthy list of what must improve.
Last year’s team finished 14th in the 15-team ACC in defense (both scoring and shooting percentage) and rebounding margin. Beyond stats, she’s focused on “how these guys treat one another” and emphasizes that “good teams point inwards” to accept responsibility instead of blaming others when things go wrong.
“Very few people get to step into the Princeton job,” Banghart said of the veteran team she left behind. “So I’m here to make some changes so that the program can be in a better place than it was before I got here. That’s what I’m working daily to do.”
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