Former players: UNC’s Hatchell ‘like my second mom’
With the women’s basketball coaching staff at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill sidelined by a review of the program, two former players spoke to WRAL News about their experiences there.
Head coach and Hall of Famer Sylvia Hatchell and her staff are on paid administrative leave as a Charlotte law firm looks into questions of culture, the university said. WRAL News learned that some alleged Hatchell made racially insensitive comments. The Washington Post last week reported on a meeting between parents and administrators in which concerns were raised about three players who reported that they felt pressured by Hatchell to play despite injuries.
On Monday, Ivory Latta and Erlana Larkins, All-American stars at UNC who went on to play in the WNBA, said they were drawn to Carolina because of its storied basketball history and because of Hatchell.
“Whether you had ups and downs with her, you knew that, when you left there, you were a better person.” Latta said, adding that Hatchell was “like my second mom.”
“I loved her honesty,” she said.
Larkins called the allegations “disappointing,” but said, “I don’t want to take away from whatever it is the girls may or may not have experienced. All I can speak on is what I experienced.”
Both were quick to say that they never heard racially insensitive remarks from Hatchell. The idea prompted them to laugh.
“If Coach Hatchell was truly racist, there’s only so long that you can hide that,” Larkins said.
The Washington Post report cited parents quoting Hatchell in a comment that her players would be “hanged from trees with nooses” if their performance did not improve.
“When it first came out and I saw it, I was like, ‘What? A racist! This lady out of all people?’ I’m from South Carolina, and to be honest, I’ve encountered a lot of racism,” Latta said. “Coach Hatchell? Seriously? That’s the hurtful part.”
Latta, who played at UNC from 2003 to 2007, is a free agent this year in the WNBA and currently deciding if she will continue to play in the pros. Larkins played at UNC from 2004 to 2008 and is currently playing for the Minnesota Lynx. Both also defended a coach who pushed them, but never too far.
“We had our battles,” Latta said. “The things she said just motivated us to play hard.”
“She didn’t necessarily negatively push us, but she also wanted to know that, hey, maybe your body feels like it can’t go there, but sometimes it’s mind over matter,” Larkins said.
Both players related instances when they played through pain because of a desire to contribute to the team, not because of any pressure from the coach.
“We had the best medical staff there,” Latta said. “It was actually no pressure for me to even come back into the game.”
Other former UNC players have shown their support for their former coach on social media, echoing Latta and Larkins.
Nikki Teasley, last year’s fifth pick in the WNBA Draft, said she never witnessed anything close to racism. “Coach created a culture and atmosphere at Carolina that allowed me and all my teammates to become the best women we can become in life,” she said.
For Latta and Larkins, the difference is in player expectations.
Our jerseys aren’t hanging up in Carmichael Arena because we said, ‘Oh coach, we can’t play today. We have a little soreness,’” Latta said.
“When you get in the real world, nobody is going to be holding your hand. So you learn these lessons in college so when you get to the real world, you’re good,” she said.
With no timeline set for the review, the question of whether Hatchell, who is 67 and a cancer survivor, will ever return, is an open one. Neither Latta nor Larkins can imagine Hatchell would resign.
“She has a legacy that is going to be possibly tarnished, possibly because of this,” Larkins said. “Her legacy – it lives forever.
“I just want to say thank you to Coach Hatchell for giving me the opportunity to play at a great university, receive a great education and also help me be a better person in life.”