No One Scapegoating Hatchell

When the NCAA leveled devastating penalties on the Penn State football program in 2012, the NCAA also declared Penn State football players would be permitted to transfer without the NCAA’s standard transfer restrictions. Onlookers expected a massive exodus of players, but that exodus never happened. Some players left, but the Penn State coaching staff was able to retain most.

The same cannot be said for the UNC women’s basketball staff, and they haven’t even received NCAA penalties yet.

Head Coach Sylvia Hatchell’s contract extends three more years, to 2018. Three other UNC coaches, including women’s lacrosse coach Jenny Levy, received contract extensions earlier this summer, but Hatchell did not. Her supporters and other commentators have subsequently claimed UNC is denying her an extension because they are scapegoating her for the paper-class scandal.

Yet those supporters and commentators overlook the fact that women’s basketball appears to be losing the entirety of its heralded 2013 recruiting class.

Of the four players from that class, we only know second-hand that one of them chose to leave for reasons related to the scandal. However, having worked with women’s basketball players while I was a learning specialist at UNC, I know that some of them were never quite content at UNC since the assistant coach who recruited them decided to leave before their first year. A number of players never felt as connected to the remaining coaches.

No one from UNC Athletics has blamed Hatchell and her staff for the paper-class scandal, and no one should. Neither Hatchell nor any coach at UNC was involved in creating or perpetuating the paper classes. The argument that UNC is scapegoating Hatchell is both a misguided attempt by her supporters to shame Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham into granting her an extension, and an intellectually dishonest ploy by anti-athletics crusaders who want to see men’s basketball and football take all the blame.

Hatchell deservedly has had former players publicly support her. From what I know of her, she has been an honorable and successful coach for many years. However, the players whose support matters most are those who will be playing for other schools next year.

Art’s Angle: Hatchell Should Go Gracefully

Hiring Sylvia Crawley as an assistant coach is the right play for Sylvia Hatchell. Getting her friends and colleagues in the university to lobby for an extension to her contract is the wrong play.

Crawley, a star player and captain of the 1994 Tar Heels, will be seen by many people as Hatchell’s successor after she resigns following the 2016 season or is fired. Hatchell cannot survive as the Carolina coach for reasons that go beyond her program’s complicity in the NCAA allegations.

That first. Her support group calling women’s basketball a “sacrificial lamb” is ill-advised, some would say stupid. Anyone who reads the Notice of Allegations can see where Hatchell’s program is cited through the actions of former academic advisor Jan Boxill, the long-respected faculty member who was fired for her role in the AFAM scandal. Beyond the substantial fine the university will receive for a “lack of institutional control,” women’s basketball is the sport most likely to be penalized. One of the five allegations is entirely devoted to emails between Boxill and the AFAM department.  If so, Hatchell will be held accountable as the CEO of the program.

Just as Butch Davis was fired for, among other things, violating his contract by hiring a coach (John Blake) who broke NCAA rules. UNC firing Davis “without cause” and paying him the balance of his contract worth between $11 and 12 million seemed foolish, but the university did not want to invest the time and legal fees to defend a prolonged lawsuit that Davis surely would have filed. Any Carolina coach whose program breaks NCAA rules, including Roy Williams, should be and would be fired.

Second, the collateral damage from the NCAA probe that has injured almost every Tar Heel sports team in recruiting has just about killed women’s hoops. Hatchell has lost the No. 1 recruiting class of 2013 — from Diamond DeShields transferring to Tennessee after her All-ACC freshman season to Jessica Washington, Allisha Gray and Stephanie Mavunga leaving this summer. Only Gray acknowledged that the stigma of the NCAA investigation caused her departure, but surely Washington and Mavunga feel the same way. These women worry that their association with a tainted team will hurt their professional careers, in and out of basketball, moving forward.

Clearly, Hatchell’s program has become fatally flawed and a change must be made to start over. Hatchell is a Hall of Fame coach who has won a national championship (1994) and more than 900 games. She also won her courageous battle against Leukemia that kept her off the bench during the 2014 season. She has been a great representative of the university until the NCAA revelations that have divided the campus and caused fractures in the athletic department itself.

Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham must negotiate an athletic program, 98 percent of which still operates and succeeds at the highest level, through the awful hand he was dealt when he took over for Dick Baddour in November of 2011. Aware he was inheriting the three-year probation in football for impermissible benefits during the Davis era, Cunningham said recently that he had not heard the acronym “AFAM” until a few months into his job.

The Rams Club continues to raise money at record levels, proving an angry alumni and fan base has not deserted the program, but by charter can only pay for scholarships and capital improvements. Cunningham is stuck with about an $80 million operating budget with most of its revenue streams maxed out. Sure, UNC gets an occasional windfall from additional post-season payouts from the ACC, but not enough to increase salaries and recruiting budgets for all but two of UNC’s 28 sports that do not make money.

When revenues are flat, expenses need to be cut. Cunningham and UNC are committed, for now, to a broad-based program driven by participation for as many varsity athletes as possible. But that will have to change one day. Current Title IX guidelines dictate any sport cut will be on the men’s side, and Cunningham has an opportunity to start by dropping the struggling wrestling program after he recently fired veteran coach and former Tar Heel All-American C.D. Mock. Wrestling gives out all 9.9 scholarships allowed by the NCAA, so that could save some money for the Rams Club. Also, coaches’ salaries and recruiting and travel costs would be eliminated from Bubba’s budget. Wrestling could still be offered as a club sport, where UNC’s program is among the biggest and most successful in the country.

Women’s basketball loses more money than any sport at Carolina. Hatchell earns about a million dollars from her state salary, stipends and her successful summer camp. The team draws sparse crowds to revamped Carmichael Arena, employs eight assistant coaches or support personnel and has significant recruiting and travel budgets. UNC has a “cost per athlete” metric computed by revenues versus  expenses divided by the number of players on a team. While losing about $2.5 million a year, Hatchell’s program has the highest cost-per-athlete of all women sports and one of the highest of all 28 teams.

Surely, UNC can play competitive women’s basketball for half the cost. The money saved could be spread across all other women’s sports, increasing subpar coaching salaries and recruiting budgets in most of them. It is truly amazing that Carolina athletics continues to finish high in the Learfield Director’s Cup (fifth in 2014-15) with an operating budget far behind schools like Stanford, Ohio State and Texas.

Changes are on the way. They need to include women’s basketball where, after one season as Hatchell’s well-traveled and accomplished assistant, Crawley becomes the new face of the program. She has already held three head-coaching positions and is respected in the profession. Her charge would be to rebuild the Lady Tar Heels for less than what it has cost UNC, monetarily and otherwise, under Hatchell.

UNC Hires Crawley As Assistant Coach For Women’s Basketball

Sylvia Crawley will return to her alma mater to serve as an assistant coach for the UNC Women’s Basketball team.

During her years as a player at UNC, Crawley competed in 124 games, making 101 starts. She compiled 1,158 points, 582 rebounds, 123 blocks and 90 steals. She ranks ninth on the UNC career charts in both blocks and field goal percentage.

Crawley was the captain and coaches finals MVP of the NCAA Championship team back in 1994.

She spent more than a decade playing professionally before becoming head coach, first at Ohio University, then at Boston College. She owns a 105-88 career record spanning six seasons.

Most recently, Crawley was an assistant coach with the Indiana Fever of the WNBA in 2014.

In a press release, Head Coach Sylvia Hatchell says Crawley’s return is a “tremendous hire” for the women’s basketball program.

“Sylvia is a former ACC head coach and a true Tar Heel,” says Hatchell. “She will be a wonderful addition to our staff and will assist us tremendously with recruiting and all facets of our program. A wonderful person, coach and one of my girls. We’re excited to welcome her back!”

UNC’s Washington To Transfer

After two years with the Tar Heel women’s basketball team, Jessica Washington is reportedly transferring to another school.

UNC made that announcement Friday afternoon. Washington is a 5’8″ guard from Tulsa, Oklahoma; she averaged 7.3 points per game off the bench in her sophomore campaign of 2014-15.

Although she won’t be eligible to join the Tar Heels next season, UNC has already scored a commitment from rising sophomore Paris Kea (a Greensboro native) to transfer from Vanderbilt. Kea too is a guard who averaged 6.3 points per game as a freshman; she’ll sit out next season and be eligible to play for the Heels in 2016-17.

The full statement from UNC Athletics on Washington is below:

CHAPEL HILL – North Carolina women’s basketball head coach Sylvia Hatchell announced Friday that Jessica Washington and the University have mutually agreed to part ways. Washington played two seasons with the Tar Heels.

“Jessica is a very talented player and we wish her a successful next chapter in both her basketball career and in life,” said Hatchell. “We appreciate the hard work she has put into our program over the last two seasons.”

Washington, a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, came off the bench in all 35 games as a sophomore in 2014-15, averaging 7.3 points and 2.4 rebounds per game.

“It has truly been an honor representing the University of North Carolina these last two years and I want to personally thank Coach Hatchell for giving me the chance to play for the Tar Heels,” Washington said. “I’ve enjoyed my time at UNC and I wish my teammates success in their future, but right now I’m looking forward to a new opportunity to play for another quality institution and have the chance for more playing time.”

North Carolina reached the NCAA Sweet 16 this past season, posted a 26-9 record and received a No. 9 ranking in the final USA TODAY Sports Coaches’ poll.

From Sweet to Beat: UNC WBB Season Ends

Hall of Fame head coach Sylvia Hatchell’s first season post-cancer recovery has come to an end. In the final battle of the 2014-2015 campaign, North Carolina women’s basketball finished the season with a heartbreaking 67-65 loss to South Carolina. The Tar Heels have finished this season in the NCAA tournament round of 16 with an impressive 26-9 record.

Greensboro Coliseum was a sea of maroon and Carolina blue on Friday night as fans from both sides of the border gathered to watch the Battle of the Carolinas.

For the majority of the first half, UNC managed to dominate inside, despite South Carolina’s clear height advantage. That’s nothing Carolina big man Stephanie Mavunga hasn’t dealt with before. Until she was triple teamed by the USC front court; she went on a 6-0 run by herself. Mavunga finished the year with 15 double-doubles and the night with 10 points and 13 rebounds.

“I think we’ve played so much more physical teams,” Mavunga said. “I think the refs kind of let us play a lot and we both played hard but I wouldn’t say it’s the most physical (this year). We had some battles with Duke, Louisville, Notre Dame, Miami – a bunch of people that I think are tougher than they are. But I think we did a good job of handling it.”

The chance to advance made for an all-out war. Neither team held a lead for longer than a few seconds, and just when North Carolina thought they could pull away after the final media timeout, the Gamecocks kept fighting.

UNC was up 63-60 at the one-minute mark. A lucky three-pointer from the corner by senior Olivia Gaines tied the game and cost Mavunga her final foul. After sending South Carolina to the free throw line for two, sophomore Jessica Washington tied the game at 65 with a lay-up. That would be UNC’s final bucket.

SEC Player of the Year Tiffany Mitchell drove down the baseline for a wide open lay-up to put USC on top. Coach Hatchell tried to substitute in Jamie Cherry with 3.5 seconds left for her famous last second attempt at a buzzer beater, but for the first – and last time this season – it missed its mark.

“The competition we had in our conference this year, prepared us so well for this game. Because almost every game in our conference is like this,” Coach Hatchell said. “Hopefully the ACC will earn some respect. To me, we didn’t play that much better, we’ve been playing like this all year. We’ve got some doggone good teams in our league.”

On her final night in a North Carolina uniform, Latifah Coleman made her presence known. The senior guard posted 15 points for UNC to reach double figures for the 11th time this season and the 20th time in her career. Right behind her on the scoreboard for North Carolina was Allisha Gray with 12.

Danielle Butts finished her collegiate career with 8 points and Brittany Rountree ended her senior campaign with 3 points.

Gamecocks Mitchell and sophomore Alaina Coates were both the scoring leaders with 18 apiece and junior Tina Roy with 12 on 4-8 three-point shooting.

South Carolina advances to play Florida State Sunday in Greensboro for the chance to claim the regional title.


Battle of the Carolinas: UNC and USC Meet in Sweet 16

Exactly three weeks after coming up short in the ACC quarterfinals, North Carolina women’s basketball is taking the trip back to the Greensboro Coliseum, in a much tougher match.

Carolina has risen to the Sweet 16 after two home wins over Liberty and Ohio State. The match against the Buckeyes was no easy feat.

Much like when she sent UNC’s last game of the ACC Tournament into overtime, freshman Jamie Cherry came through in the waning seconds of the match to net a big shot – this time for the 86-84 victory.

“It’s the second time this year she’s made a shot like that,” Head coach Sylvia Hatchell boasted. “She can shoot, the kid can really light it up so in there at the end, it was sort of divine intervention and I just thought, ‘put Jamie in.’”

Friday’s match proves as another flashback moment for the Tar Heels. Last season, Carolina upset opponent and women’s basketball powerhouse, South Carolina in the round of 16.

“(South Carolina Head coach Dawn Staley) has done a fabulous job down there rebuilding that program,” Hatchell said. “We beat them last year so I’m sure they’ll be really fired up for us. They’ve got size, they’ve got shooters, and they’re just a really good team. So we’re going to have to play well but hey, anything can happen – as we know.”

In that game last March, UNC came out on top of the Gamecocks in Stanford, California 65-58. Since then, USC has only lost twice – falling to top-seeded Connecticut and conference foe Kentucky.

With the Battle of the Carolinas meeting in a conveniently close arena, the atmosphere in the Coliseum should be nothing less than electrifying.

Sweet Caroline! Mavunga Powers Tar Heels To Sweet Sixteen

At times, it was a master class of inside-outside offense at its best. Down the stretch, it looked more like a nervy collapse. But above all, for the Tar Heels, it was a win.

***Listen to the story***

The fourth-seeded North Carolina women’s basketball team used sophomore forward Stephanie Mavunga’s 27 points and freshman Jamie Cherry’s patented last-second ‘Cherry Bomb’ to get past Ohio State, 86-84, Monday night at Carmichael Arena and in turn, advance to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet Sixteen.

Jamie Cherry delivered in the clutch for Carolina (Smith Hardy)

Jamie Cherry delivered in the clutch for Carolina (Smith Hardy)

With the victory, the Tar Heels improved to 26-8 overall while the Buckeyes finished their 2014-15 campaign with a 24-11 record.

After surrendering an 18-point halftime lead, Cherry came up big in the clutch, finding the net with .4 ticks left on the clock.

UNC head coach Sylvia Hatchell says she looked to the heavens for some guidance on the final possession.

“She can shoot and light it up. There at the end, it was sort of divine intervention. I just thought, ‘put Jamie in.’ I knew she could make it,” Coach Hatchell says.

Playing at a staggering pace that had Mavunga herself gasping for air on the sidelines, the Tar Heels used their patented up-tempo, ‘track meet’ offense to motor out to a commanding 50-32 halftime lead. The 50-point output tied Carolina’s season-high for a half of basketball.

In an even bigger first-half surprise, the nation’s leading scorer, Ohio State’s Kelsey Mitchell, was held down to a mere four points on 2-11 shooting.

In her place, OSU junior guard Ameryst Alston tallied 30 points to lead all scorers. Mitchell eventually found her game as well, finishing with 25 points.

Carolina continued to dominate out of the halftime locker room, inching closer to the finish line with a steady offense and determined defensive effort.

But the Buckeyes continued to fight, hitting key shots and taking full advantage of Tar Heel miscues to eventually tie the game at 84-all with 5.1 seconds remaining.

Sylvia Hatchell has her Tar Heels back in a familiar place - the Sweet Sixteen. (Smith Hardy)

Sylvia Hatchell has her Tar Heels back in a familiar place – the Sweet Sixteen. (Smith Hardy)

And that’s when Cherry checked in, knocking down an aggressive runner to ignite the Carmichael crowd and save the day. The buzzer beater sent the UNC players into a frenzy. Coach Hatchell beamed, clenched fists held high in the air.

“Taking the big shot, it’s a big shot and everybody dreams of hitting the shot,” Cherry says. “I just wanted us to move on to the Sweet 16, especially for our seniors. … I didn’t want it to end here for them.”

Survive and advance they say. Well, survive, Carolina did.

Mavunga credited her little brother for inspiring her standout performance. The secret? A simple slogan.

“I’m a matchup they don’t want to see. He told me that’s what he said all day before his high school game last week. He went off in that game. I’m like, man, spitting some knowledge. I’m a matchup they don’t want to see,” Mavunga says.

The Tar Heels won’t need to travel far for the next round – just down the road to the Greensboro Coliseum. But the opponent may in fact be a ‘matchup they don’t want to see.’

UNC will take on revenge-minded and top-seeded South Carolina Friday in a rematch of last year’s Sweet Sixteen encounter in which the Tar Heels toppled the Gamecocks on their way to the Elite Eight.


UNC WBB Holds Off Liberty in NCAA First Round

The Tar Heels were able to hold Liberty off in the second half despite the Flames attempt to come back from a 14-point deficit. With a final score of 71-65, North Carolina lives to play another game in the NCAA Tournament.

“I knew it was going to be a tough game because Liberty’s tough and it’s just typical of these first round games that we’ve been seeing in both the men’s and women’s tournaments. So we’re happy for the win and we’re looking forward to playing on Monday night.”

The fourth-seeded Tar Heels shot 49 percent and Allisha Gray led the way with 17 points. Stephanie Mavunga put up 12 points and credits the guards for pressuring the offense at the top.

“We fronted the post a lot. That was really a big thing,” Mavunga said. “Also, the on-the-ball defense from the top and the wings… the guards did a really good job mirroring the ball that way they didn’t have a good look so they couldn’t pass it into the post as easily.”

Womens Photos LU vs UNC NCAA Tourney

Liberty made a run in the second half and cut Carolina’s 14 point lead to 65-59. Coach Sylvia Hatchell says poor rebounding gave the Flames an opportunity to come back.

“Our rebounding was…. I don’t know what words you could use to describe it… but it was pretty bad. So we have to do a lot better job with that,” Coach Sylvia Hatchell said.

Womens Photos LU vs UNC NCAA Tourney 14

Senior Latifah Coleman scored 15 points—the most she has scored in 2015. Coleman says having Coach Hatchell back this season is emotional for the team.

“Every time we think about the tournament and last year we get filled with emotion. I mean, having Coach Hatchell back is great it’s just more fuel to the fire and there’s more purpose to what we do and why we do it,” Coleman said.

North Carolina plays Ohio State Monday night at Carmichael Arena in the 2nd round of the tournament.


UNC Women’s Basketball To Host Opening Rounds of NCAA

Selection Sunday provides a lot of attention on men’s college basketball, and had Carolina fans holding their breath to see how the Tar Heels would be seeded. But of course, it’s not only the UNC men’s team that will be trying to make a run in the NCAA tournament. Hall of Fame coach Sylvia Hatchell’s team received an at-large bid and was placed as a No. 4 seed in the Greensboro region after the tournament bracket was announced Monday afternoon.

Carolina will continue its postseason with a match against 13th-seeded Liberty on Saturday at 11 a.m. in Chapel Hill. That’s right. The Tar Heels will play the first two games of the tournament at home in historic Carmichael Arena.

A home-game hosting position is huge for Coach Hatchell’s team, who finished at 24-8 and spent its entire regular season ranked among the top-20 nationally. And she says this is the perfect scenario for the Heels to gain momentum and advance through the Big Dance.

“It was our goal to be one of the top-16 teams, to host the first two rounds, then to go to Greensboro. We can stay at home and we love Greensboro. We’ve played there a lot – then on to Tampa.”

Tampa, Florida is the host of this year’s Final Four, the last three games before an NCAA women’s basketball champion is announced. But before UNC reaches that mark, Carolina may have some challenges even in front of familiar crowds.

“There’s some added pressure with playing at home, too. People expect you to win,” Coach Hatchell said. “But the biggest thing is we’re here for our fans and now we need our fans to fill the place up. What else are you going to do at 11 o’ clock on Saturday morning? You’re too old to watch cartoons – well, I think. What else are you going to do? Come out and cheer us on to victory. “

Within Coach Hatchell’s 950-plus winning career, she and UNC are no strangers to big NCAA tournament games. Her team has made three appearances in the Final Four and won the 1994 national title. Also, Carolina has advanced to at least the regional semifinal game in 14 of its last 19 NCAA Tournament appearances, most recently last season when the Tar Heels reached the Elite Eight as a No. 4 seed.

Their opponent, Liberty, was crowned the Big South Tournament Champions for the 16th time in 19 years. Their longest stay in the NCAA women’s tournament came in 2005 when the Flames advanced to the Sweet 16.

On Saturday morning, it will be two weeks exactly since UNC has played a game after a heart-breaking overtime loss to Louisville in the ACC Tournament semifinals. Coach Hatchell says she has been keeping her players fresh throughout the break with constant scrimmaging and up-tempo practices.

“We took off four days last week after we came back from the ACC Tournament and they went home and had Wednesday through Saturday off. But we practiced last night and today and it gives them a good break. They come back more fresh and excited after breaking up the season. It’s like that regular season, then the ACC’s are over and now it’s the NCAA Tournament. It’s a six game season and every game is so big and important.”

The winner of the Saturday showdown will advance to face the winner of the first-round game between No. 5 seed Ohio State and No. 12 seed James Madison Monday.

Click here to view the entire NCAA Women’s Tournament bracket.

Heels Tumble Out of Tourney in OT Loss

No. 15 North Carolina was knocked out of the ACC Women’s Tournament Saturday night by No. 10 Louisville in a 77-75 overtime loss. The Tar Heels had made it to the quarterfinals and looked to knock out at least one of the top-seeded teams from reaching the semifinals.

UNC freshman Jamie Cherry threw up a 40-foot nail-biter with less than two seconds left on clock to tie the game at 66 and send the game into overtime.

In Louisville’s first ever ACC Tournament game, the Cardinals quickly trimmed a 10-point lead UNC held over them with fewer than 10 minutes to play.

With 40 points scored in the paint compared to UNC’s 28, U of L knew just where to attack.

“We were letting Carolina do what they wanted to do, and we just talked about getting back to the basics,” Louisville Head Coach Jeff Walz said. “We tried to make sure we played scouting report defense and on the offensive end, we actually finally started to execute. We pushed the ball in transition and got some layups and also ran through some things.”

Louisville senior Sara Hammond led the Cardinals with 20 points as she scored eight times on nine shots at the free throw line – a key statistic for her team at the end of the game.

UNC’s Jessica Washington scored a team high 16 points and netted three 3-pointers. Junior N’Dea Bryant also played big for Carolina as she scored 13 points and snatched three steals.

Allisha Gray was evidently off beat on the court. She only scored seven points and grabbed five rebounds in 30 minutes on the floor.

Her time was cut short when she committed her fifth foul with 2 minutes left in regulation. Coach Sylvia Hatchell said losing her at the end of the game was reminiscent to the February 15th matchup between UNC and Louisville.

“The first time, she played really well, and this is probably the worst I’ve seen Allisha play,” Coach Hatchell said. “I kept thinking she was going to get going but she didn’t and they were targeting her a lot.”

Even amid her slump, Gray still made history that night as the 35th player in program history to obtain 1,000 points. With Gray only in her second year at Carolina, that mark shows very promising for the Heels.

And Carolina’s season is not over yet. The NCAA will determine the bracketology of the big dance in the coming weeks as the Tar Heels take on March Madness.