Sylvia Hatchell coaches UNC from afar

The coach talks battle with leukemia and tonight's game

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UNC Head Coach Sylvia Hatchell talks to her players during a time-out against Radford on December 5, 2012 at Carmichael Arena in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

While her North Carolina women’s basketball team was preparing themselves for its Elite 8 matchup with No. 2 Stanford tonight at 9 p.m., coach Sylvia Hatchell pulled a chair up to her coffee table at her office in Carmichael Arena in Chapel Hill. It was that chair in which Hatchell sat when she led the Tar Heels to their first-ever national championship in 1994. The Daily Tar Heel’s Aaron Dodson and Daniel Wilco caught up with Hatchell, talking about Hatchell’s role on the team during her battle with leukemia, the Stanford game plan, associate head coach Andrew Calder’s performance and freshman Diamond DeShields.

Daily Tar Heel: How are you feeling?

Sylvia Hatchell: I feel good. It's basically my immune system that's got to get built back up. When you take chemo, for it to work, it has to take you all the way down and then you start building it back up. But I'm getting all my strength and I've stayed pretty strong through all this because I exercise every day. I worked out right before I came over here. I walked two miles, did my stretching and my exercises and stuff.

The doctor, he said, 'I'll have you 100 percent for next year.' So that's what I'm counting on. You don't realize how much you love something, how important it is to you until you don't have it.

But I've been working. I'm not in here every day, but when my numbers are OK, I come over. (Administrative Assistant) Jane (High) and I do a lot of stuff and then I'll watch practice. I'll sit in the top up here and watch practice. On days that I can't come, I'll do it on my iPad. We've got a game plan where we can film practice, and they just put it on a satellite and I can usually get it about 10 minutes after practice. So I do that, and at my house I've got my computer and am on the phone nonstop. I'm still probably putting in two to five hours a day at least even though I'm not out of the court with the girls.

I told somebody, 'I haven't taken a leave of absence. Trust me.' I haven't come anywhere close to that. I'm probably working now as much as most people work normal. But I'm doing really good. My doctor says, whenever I talk to him about the Final Four. He says, 'When is it and where.' And he looked at me and said, 'Now, that's doable.'

Now to me, doable means I can go. But again, my numbers will have to be high enough, but I think they will be because they were pretty good yesterday, and they're on the upswing.

We're going to be challenged tonight. But we can do it. I said our kids have played the best in the most hostile environments this year — at Duke and at State. That's when Diamond (DeShields) and Allisha (Gray) and all them played their very best. I think they'll be ready to play. Diamond, she's beat up pretty much, but she'll play. She'll be ready.

DTH: Where will you watch the game tonight?

SH: I'll watch it at my house. I'm usually all over my house. I start on the sofa, then sometimes I'll lay down. Then I'll move to another chair. Sometimes I go upstairs to my bedroom and watch up there a little bit. I'm pretty much all over the house.

I don't really yell, but once and a while I'll holler something out. But I pretty much just sit, watch and analyze. I take notes sometimes during the games. I analyze and say, 'Andrew, get her out. You need a timeout here. Or put so and so in. Put Danielle (Butts) in there. Or Brittany (Rountree). Brittany won't miss foul shots.' Like Sunday night, I was saying, 'Get the ball in Brittany's hands.' Because I knew they were going to foul, and Brittany don't miss foul shots. She was 5-for-6 in the last minute, minute and a half. I'll just talk strategy like that more than anything else. But it about kills me to see them pull off on that bus without me on there. But I'll be back on there next year.

DTH: How has coach Andrew Calder done in your absence?

SH: He's doing a great job. We've been together forever. When I got the job here, I hired him. And actually, he was here on campus before I was because I was off in Russia coaching the USA team. And so, I was in Russia until the first week of September that year. He was here probably two weeks before I was. We've been together all this time. He knows exactly what I want to do. And over the summer, we sat down and had a lot of sessions where we'd talk about what we wanted to do with this freshman class and everything like that. He and I talk every day, sometimes two, three, four times a day. In fact, I've already talked to him today. I'll talk to him in a few minutes about Stanford and two or three different scenarios with (Stanford forward) Chiney Ogwumike and with Diamond. A few weeks ago we started talking about putting her at point guard some, which we have. Putting her up on top on defense, which made a big difference with Michigan State. Kids at different positions. Just some strategy things. Like I said, he and I have been together so long, we think just alike, and he knows exactly what I want done. And he'll go over things with me ahead of time. Once and a while, he'll disagree. He'll say, 'Well, let me start out like this and see how it goes. And if that don't work, we'll try something else.' We've been together for too long. He knows exactly what I want done. Like I said, I'm very, very involved with everything that we do.

DTH: What has your relationship been like with the freshmen this year?

SH: It's been hard for them because they don't know me like the rest of the kids do. Again, I don't want to be so involved with them. Andrew is in charge because I'm not there. I want them to understand that he's calling the shots and he's making the decisions. So I'm trying to be real supportive of what he's doing. But yet, also, it's just hard when you can't be with somebody to build a relationship. And so much of mine is not that I don't want to, but it's my immune system. Like a couple of them are huggers. I mean their love language is physical touch. Stephanie (Mavunga) loves to hug. You just need to go up and hug her all the time. She just wants you to hug her. So it's just been hard for me to get to know them and them get to know me because we haven't been around each other that much. So we have relationships, but we still just don't know each other that well. And so I look forward to. Especially at that age because their personalities, especially away from the court and all that.

We still just don’t know each other that well. I look forward to getting to know them better as people, and I’m sure the same thing with them. They feel like, ‘We came here to play for coach Hatchell, and we haven’t had a chance to play for her yet.’ But again, when I’m back out there, it’ll be a little different, but not that much. Because so much of what Andrew is doing is what I would be doing. And he may handle things in just a different way and he may be a little more serious and all at times, but basically, it’s a lot of the same thing. I think he’s probably a little more business minded, and I’m at times more of the motherly type. I understand the female aspect of the game.

DTH: If the Tar Heels make it to the Final Four, and your doctors clear you to join them, what will your role be?

SH: Again, that depends on what my doctors say, but we’d work it out to probably where I would sit on the bench, but Andrew would still be calling all the shots. But I could be there more in a supportive role — motivation for the kids. Just to let them know how much I wanted to be with them all year and everything like that. I’ve been involved with all the gameplans and all that stuff so far, so all that away from the court ... it’s just that I would be there with them on the court. He’d still carry on all the duties that he’s been doing, it’s just that I’d be there in a supportive role.

DTH: How do you plan on matching up on Chiney Ogwumike — Stanford’s forward who averages 26.6 points and 12.2 rebounds per game?

SH: They don’t know this, but I’ll tell you. Xylina (McDaniel) is going to start on her. And they probably think Stephanie is. (Xylina) will be physical. And I told (Xylina), I said, ‘Look. Yeah, you were 0-for-8 against South Carolina. But if you guys are going to the Final Four, one of the most important things may be the defense that you play tonight on Chiney.’ And I said not just the defense, but boxing her out, because she’s such a great offensive rebounder. That could be the difference in whether this team goes to the Final Four or not because Chiney is such a key to that team. But as we play, different ones will be on her because of how we switch on defense  and everything like that, but Xylina is going to start on her.

DTH: Does that have anything to do with how McDaniel matched up on Michigan State’s leading scorer Aerial Powers in UNC’s Round of 32 game and held her to two points?

SH: It’s just that Xylina will accept a challenge like that and she’ll be physical. And that will keep Stephanie a little more freed up for offense and keep her around the basket. Because Chiney will come away from the basket and look for her shot outside, too. And that way Stephanie can stay inside a little bit more.

DTH: Is Diamond DeShields set to play tonight?

SH: Well, we’ve been texting back and forth and she says that she’s sore. The last text that I got from her right before I came over here said,

‘I’m doing alright. Still sore. Bruised pretty badly, but I’ll be okay. I will play.’

I don’t think that there’s any way that you could keep her off of the court.

DTH: What was your reply?

SH: ‘There’s no one tougher than my Diamond. You’re the best. This is just like playing at Duke or N.C. State. You are your best in these type of environments. Just be Diamond. I’m proud of you. Love, Coach Hatchell.’

And then she put ‘Thank you Coach. <3’

But I talked to her, too, and she said that she was beat up, bruised up, her ankle is swollen, they’re doing hot and cold treatments on her, keeping it elevated, she’s not practicing, but she’s such a competitor. Now, will she be 100 percent? Probably not. But I’m sure she’ll give it 100 percent. But will her body allow her to be at 100 percent? I don’t know. It’ll be hard, considering she tweaked her knee a little bit, she rolled her ankle, she got beat up pretty good. But like I said, she’s such a competitor I’m sure she’ll be out there giving it all she’s got. I noticed that when she’s beat up like that she may not drive quite as much to avoid the contact, but as long as that jump shot is falling, she’ll be fine. But if we put her up at the top — we’ve been playing her some at point guard — it’s not just to get her shots coming off of the screens, but the thing is she draws so much attention, and she’s so tall that she can find other people. And that’s been a good thing to do. Not just her, I’m texting a bunch of them, just trying to keep them motivated and focused and everything like that.

DTH: What would you tell your team going into tonight’s matchup?

SH: Basically what I told them before I left here. I said, ‘Look, there’s four teams there. Somebody is going to the Final Four. Why not you? Why not you? You’ve already played South Carolina, you played them and beat them. They’re the No. 1 seed.’ I went through the other teams that were there and I said, ‘Why not you?’ So that’s what they’ve been talking about. ‘Why not us? Why not us?’ So, why not? That’s basically it.

Thanks for reading.

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