Former Tar Heel Ivory Latta returns for coaching job
North Carolina women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell remembers when a seventh-grader named Ivory Latta caught her eye at a UNC summer basketball camp.
Hatchell said she felt Latta was destined for UNC stardom the first day she came to campus.
“I just fell in love with her, and she fell in love with us — and Carolina,” Hatchell said.
And Latta, UNC’s all-time leading scorer, will return to the Tar Heel basketball scene next season, joining her college coach on the sidelines as an assistant for the women’s team.
Hatchell said Latta was her first choice to fill the vacant slot, once former assistant coach Trisha Stafford-Odom took the head coaching job at Concordia-Irvine.
“I told Ivory, ‘Next time I have an opening, you’ll be the first one I talk to,’” she said.
Latta said she and her former coach have always had a close player-coach rapport, one that has stretched well beyond the scope of college play.
“We talk two, three times a week — even when I’m overseas (playing),” Latta said.
Latta will be coming to help coach a talented but young team that lost three seniors and has room for improvement, Hatchell said.
With a recruiting class of four All-American freshmen, expectations will be high — but injuries and inexperience could stand in the squad’s way.
“We’ll have to go through some growing pains,” Hatchell said.
And Latta could be the push new and returning players need.
Megan Buckland, a redshirt sophomore guard, said she recalls Latta’s constant level of energy reserves when she ran the point at UNC.
“I think about the intensity she brought — how fired up she was about every play, every game,” Buckland said.
She said she wants the team to emulate Latta, turning energy into high-performance play.
“There were times (last season) when I felt like we were lackluster out there,” she said. “(But Latta) will be able to bring that intensity, and more knowledge about the game.”
Hatchell said Latta’s personality and work ethic will ease the transition to coaching as she becomes a team role model — especially when players are reluctant to follow coach’s orders.
“Sometimes, she can say, ‘Look, you may think coach Hatchell has lost her mind, but listen — there’s a purpose to this,’” Hatchell said.
“Everything they are experiencing, she has experienced.”
But that’s not to say the 28-year-old Latta’s professional playing career is anywhere near over.
“A lot of people have been like, ‘Oh, my God, you quit the WNBA,’” she said. “No, no, I’m definitely not.”
But Latta will be back in Chapel Hill before long, a 2014 Final Four run her goal — and she has a message for her players as they look to build off a season where they fell in the NCAA’s second round.
“(I want us to) get back to when teams knew they had to play Carolina they’d be like ‘Aw, man, we have to play North Carolina,’” she said.
“We’ve just got to get back to that Carolina mentality that we had in the years before.”
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