In her first news conference in Chapel Hill, Courtney Banghart stood, fittingly, on the hardwood at Carmichael Arena. It’s a floor she might as well start getting used to.
On Tuesday, North Carolina announced Banghart as its next women’s basketball head coach. The former Princeton coach replaced Sylvia Hatchell, who resigned in late April after a law firm investigation concluded Hatchell made comments that were “racially insensitive,” mishandled injuries and had a “breakdown of connectivity” with her players.
Banghart was in high spirits on Wednesday. She'd already met with the full women’s basketball team for 30 to 45 minutes and dropped in on a meet-and-greet with other UNC coaches. When asked her first question — “Why North Carolina?” — the 40-year-old Banghart smiled.
“Why not?” she said.
Two main points arose from her wide-ranging interview: the importance of relationships and the chance for new beginnings.
In her first meeting with the team, she said “both sides” had a chance to ask questions. Banghart made sure to narrow down some personal details, such as the best dancer on the team. But she also plans to meet individually with each player for more serious conversations.
“As I told them in there, you’re balancing the excitement of you want to get started, you want to move quickly with the fact that it takes time to build relationships, and I get that,” Banghart said. “And so part of it is, it's important for us to be together on this very monumental day for the program. And also, like any relationship, it's important to give it individual time.”
Save for a brief stint in Virginia after graduation, Banghart is a lifelong Northerner. She was born and raised in New Hampshire and played at Dartmouth, where she set an Ivy League record with 273 career 3-pointers. Banghart graduated in 2000 and returned to her alma mater from 2003 to 2007 as a recruiting coordinator.
At 29, she took over a Princeton program that had never made the NCAA Tournament. Over her 12 years, Banghart became the winningest coach in program history. She went 254-103 overall, 137-31 in the Ivy League and 1-8 in eight NCAA Tournament appearances. Her 2015 team went 30-0 in the regular season, and she won seven conference titles.
Her new program, she said, will require less of a rebuild.
“This is not a place that's broken by any stretch,” Banghart said of UNC. “It's a place that's had some stress. It's had some disruption. I'm here to help through that, to hug them through it, to find out what their needs are through it and try to bridge the gap.”
The Tar Heels went 18-15 (8-8 ACC) last season and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years. On April 1, Hatchell and three assistants were placed on paid administrative leave, and the Charlotte-based firm Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein began a review of team culture. Soon after, the Washington Post reported on allegations of Hatchell making racist comments.
Eighteen days after being placed on leave, Hatchell resigned after 33 years as UNC’s head coach. As Banghart revealed on Wednesday, the former coach has already been in touch.
“I think the whole point of having a new coach is having a new beginning, right?” Banghart said. “There's a new, there's a futuristic approach. I got an email last night from Sylvia Hatchell, saying how proud she was that I was here, and how excited she is to support the program, and she's here as a resource as I need or want. There's obviously a great legacy to care about and to build on.”
Banghart said she’ll assemble a staff “as soon as possible.” Her most pressing duties, for now, are to get in touch with current players, 2019 and 2020 commits and players who have not left North Carolina but are still in the transfer portal.
“I don't know how important it is, how much I knew from what happened and what he said, she said, this said, you know,” Banghart said of the law firm review. “As I get to know each player and where the gap is, where they wanted their experience to be and where it is now, how can I can help bridge that gap to get it to what they want it to be, I'm sure there's 14 different answers to that question. And that's why that individual time's important.”
A Banghart-coached team will feature gritty defense and an offense willing to share the ball. At the end of the day, sports are an “extracurricular activity” and “additive experience,” she said, so she wants to make things fun, too.
That lightheartedness was evident after her news conference, as Banghart dribbled a Nike basketball at midcourt, posed for photos with athletic director Bubba Cunningham and joked with staffers.
Banghart’s sister is a school teacher and lives just two miles from Carmichael Arena, so when the UNC job opened up, she was secretly — or maybe not so secretly — hoping Courtney would end up in Chapel Hill. Turns out, Banghart was, too.
“I've gotten so many texts from many of the ACC head coaches just congratulating me and saying how my patience paid off,” Banghart said. “Because I wasn't just going to go just anywhere. My very clear goal was to be here. And, as luck would have it, it's where I am.”