Sylvia Hatchell reaches career milestone with 900th win

North Carolina women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell was 23 years old when she notched win No. 1 with Francis Marion, and back then she did a little bit of everything for the team.

“I drove the bus. If the floor needed sweeping, I swept it,” Hatchell said. “Sometimes, especially on holidays, I’d wash the uniforms when the managers were on vacation.”

She became the sixth coach, men’s or women’s, to reach 900 wins in Thursday’s 80-52 victory against Boston College.

Now, the three-time National Coach of the Year is ready to thank the people who helped her along the way.

Hatchell has vowed to take a “gratitude tour” after the season. She’ll visit everyone who gave her a coaching opportunity, dating back to her first gig at the Talbott School in Talbott, Tenn. Principal Tommy Northern hired her to coach seventh- and eighth-grade girls while she attended Carson-Newman College.

Hatchell is proud that she’ll return to Talbott the same person — a woman who has always hated losing and maintained a balance between faith, family and coaching.

“I think the greatest compliment that I have heard from a lot of people is that you ain’t changed a bit,” Hatchell said.

A picture of the scoreboard after UNC’s 1994 title game hangs behind Hatchell’s desk, as a testament to her hatred of losing and her belief in her players.

UNC trailed Louisiana Tech 59-57 with 0.7 seconds left to play. Hatchell’s competitive spirit took over — there would be no overtime.

“We went for the three,” Hatchell said. “We didn’t go for the tie. We went for the win. That’s just my personality.”

Hatchell put the ball in the hands of junior forward Charlotte Smith, who would later serve as an assistant coach at UNC from 2002-11.

“This is a national championship game on the line, and she chooses me to take the shot,” Smith said. “I’m not the best 3-point shooter on the team. That moment in time totally transformed how I saw myself as a player.”

Senior forward Krista Gross said Hatchell adjusts to her players’ strengths.

“She knows how you can play the best, and she puts you in situations where you can be successful, so it makes you more confident as a player,” Gross said.

Hatchell has won eight ACC championships, and she said she isn’t done.

The 38-year coach still has five and a half years left on her contract, and she hasn’t slowed on the recruiting trail, signing one of 2013’s top classes.

Smith, who is now the head coach at Elon, said Hatchell’s impact on her players goes beyond her historic win total.

“I think the biggest thing is just teaching players how to be champions in life,” Smith said. “If you throw all of coach Hatchell’s wins out the window, you still have such a strong foundation to stand on.”

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