Our other hoops team opens their season tomorrow night against Davidson, a 10-18 team last year in the Southern Conference. There's no TV, but there will be radio and you can follow the game on the internet. Start time is 7PM EST.
This is a first rate team, deep and talented. They have aspirations toward a long run in the NCAA, and are nationally ranked. This is a team that could win - maybe even should win - 30 games. They will need to replace last year's floor and emotional leader, Nikki Teasley, and will need to avoid any major letdowns. Still, I feel very positive about this team and there should be some reward for them down the road.
I want to say something about Coach Sylvia Hatchell. She's been here for, I think, 16 years now and has 330 wins - about 21 a season. She took over a program that was drifting, and has won four ACC titles and a National Championship. In fact, Hatchell has won championships under the auspices of the AIAW, NAIA, and NCAA, and has over 600 wins as a college coach. She's sent players to the pros, including Charlotte Smith (who's on staff now), Tracy Reid, LaQuanda Barksdale, and Teasley. Still, despite all that, I get the impression that there is an acute lack of respect by fans and media for both Hatchell herself and her program.
I have lamented on this board and others the fact that so many UNC fans think women's basketball is inconsequential. I think that's wrong, and any school that wants to be a true "basketball power" ought to be able to do it on both sides of the house. However, that's not what I want to discuss. I'm more concerned about the lack of respect for Hatchell herself, and I think I see some reasons, other than her sometimes odd fashion sense, why.
1. She coaches at a school with a dominant men's program. OK, that could be part of it. If you look at Tennessee and Louisiana Tech, those are programs where the women's side has easily outstripped the men's, and both women's coaches are in the Hall of Fame. But that wouldn't be true for Stanford, Connecticut or Duke, and the women's coaches there are considered HOF material. When Dean Smith was our men's coach, it's probably true that even if we had Madonna as our women's coach she wouldn't have gotten more notice than Smith. Anyway, Smith is gone and last year's men's team didn't dominate nothing. I don't really think this is the key issue.
2. UNC plays in a weak conference and has a weak non-conference schedule besides. There was a time when the ACC wasn't a power conference, but no more. The "weak sisters" like FSU, Tech and Wake have all improved, and there are no more "gimmies". Plus, we have the number 1 team in the country, Duke. I think more to the point is UNC's notoriously weak non-conference schedule, with teams like Elon, American and Coastal Carolina. All those teams have frosting and some even have sprinkles. This weekend, Duke will play Tennessee and NC State will play UConn. I hate to give NC State credit for anything other than developing the formula for turning cow manure into custard, but playing UConn is exactly right. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain if they win. UNC needs to start some home-and-home series with other top-10 programs.
3. Hatchell isn't a top recruiter. Oh yes she is. It's true we haven't signed a Sue Bird or Chamique Holtzclaw, but we have signed plenty of talent. Last year's signee, LaTangela Atkinson, and this year's, Ivory Latta and Camille Little, are top-20 talent very much on the radar of the "big powers". And bear in mind, it isn't so easy to recruit for a school whose home attendance can embarrassingly drop into the hundreds.
4. North Carolina is too inconsistent for a top program. True. And I can't explain that. Last year we took a 20-point loss to UConn, but that was to a team recognized as the greatest women's college team ever. But we took a 30-point loss to South Carolina, a game in which a flat, disorganized UNC team was backhanded across the mouth and sent packing. (They are on this year's schedule as well.) We had a mid-season slump during which we lost 4 out of 5 games including one to a pathetic Wake team. Recently, I noticed an article (in IC actually) in which Coretta Brown mentioned a lack of focus in some games. That is a coaching problem, and it needs to be fixed.
This is Sylvia Hatchell's time. She has the tools and the experience. Her job is secure. If she is to get the ultimate recognition - and I mean the Hall of Fame - these next few years need to see a Carolina program pushing the top of the envelope. We need to compete with Duke, and we need NCAA runs that go past the Sweet 16. By the time Hatchell retires, she'll have over 800 wins. But Summitt and Conradt will probably have over 1,000, so that may not be enough. A few more ACC titles and maybe another NCAA title will do it. It's within her reach, and it will mean some exciting basketball for those who chose to follow this team.