Current Date: Tue, 21 May 2013 08:12:11 -0400
When the regular season opens Friday night, the North Carolina women’s basketball team will come across something it hasn’t seen very often at practice: female competition.
Considering the Tar Heels’ typical scrimmage opponent has been the UNC men’s club basketball team, that change could make a sizable impact.
“The men really help us to go against somebody besides ourselves, and usually they’re bigger, stronger and faster, so it’s sort of an overload principle,” UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “When we work against them and then we get out there against women’s teams, we’re better.”
Most Division I schools would agree. Approximately 66 percent of those schools used male practice players in women’s sports programs during the 2005-06 campaign, according to an NCAA survey of 312 schools. Of those programs, basketball teams were the most likely to use men at practices.
The Tar Heels have been one of those teams for at least the past 25 years — as long as Hatchell has been at the helm as head coach. But the key difference this year has been the presence of a fully committed men’s squad.
“Last year we had a couple of (practice players), but they didn’t come very consistently,” sophomore guard Krista Gross said. “So it was a little bit harder to see how much they helped.”
This season, club team president Sean Brown felt his team could not only provide the women with a plethora of practice players, but that those players could benefit from the extra practice as well. So far, the women have responded well, winning 116-27 in an exhibition game against Carson-Newman on Monday.
The men have also been pleased with the results.
“It’s just been a great experience,” Brown said. “I hope they’re getting as much out of it as we’re getting out of it … We’re in way better shape than we’ve ever been in the past couple of years.”
Brown, a senior from Southlake, Texas, founded the team in October 2008 and since then has looked for opportunities to develop the program. With wins in the team’s first three club games, practicing with the North Carolina varsity women’s team has paid immediate dividends.
Still, the men are without a coach for this season. As they search for one, Hatchell, in some respects, has been able to fill that void.
“I think they’ve learned a lot as far as putting in offenses and defenses, and I’ve heard some of them say, ‘We’re going to put that in. We’re going to run that play’ or ‘I like this,’” Hatchell said. “So I think it’s a good give-and-take thing where we help each other.”
In the beginning, though, the men had to adjust to playing against a very physical, aggressive women’s team.
“I think the first game we played them we beat them, and they didn’t like that,” Gross said. “We played two 20-minute halves. The first half we beat them and in the second half they weren’t having it, so they came out so much harder.
“It was funny because I think we hurt their pride a little bit.”
Win or lose, the men have undoubtedly gained from the arrangement. Brown hopes that as he hands the reins to co-presidents Chris Carr and James Proffitt next season, the program will continue to expand.
For a group that has unselfishly committed itself to the community through events like a free basketball clinic and a canned food drive, the men’s practice squad has a role that’s fitting. The men are once again benefiting others without putting themselves in the spotlight.
“We feel like we’re able to give them a physical presence and quality basketball to go up against to get them ready for the season,” Brown said. “We hope that our impact will show through them having a great season and hopefully winning a national championship.”
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