CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Sylvia Hatchell is back for No. 13 North Carolina, healthy again and eager to see how far her talented team can go.
The Hall of Fame coach returned to the bench for Friday’s 83-49 win against Howard after missing last year while battling leukemia. She had coached the team’s two exhibition games, but this was her first time coaching a game that counted since a loss at Delaware in the second round of the 2013 NCAA tournament.
”I’m so thankful to be back out there because at this time last year I didn’t know if I was going to make it and it was really difficult,” said Hatchell, who was diagnosed last fall. ”The treatments are brutal and it was very tough, but these kids were my motivation. I worked really, really hard … because I wanted to be back with them so badly.”
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Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach Roy Williams briefly visited with Hatchell – whose 936 career wins are second to Tennessee’s Pat Summitt all-time – on the sideline during pregame warmups before heading to the Smith Center for his own team’s opener later Friday.
Otherwise, things looked and felt normal for the Tar Heels.
”Since we had her for the exhibition games, it wasn’t that different,” junior Xylina McDaniel said. ”But just being able to have her back, it brought me back to my freshman year. And that was a pretty good year. It made me happy. It made everybody happy.”
While longtime assistant Andrew Calder coached last year’s games, Hatchell remained involved by consulting with her staff, reviewing practice film, meeting with players and periodically visiting the team.
Chemotherapy forced her illness into remission, and she had hoped to be on the sideline in a supporting role if the team reached the Final Four. The Tar Heels fell a game short in a 27-win season.
Star freshman Diamond DeShields abruptly transferred after the season, though everyone else returned for a team that Hatchell said has ”unlimited” potential.
Allisha Gray, last year’s No. 2 scorer, scored 19 points and McDaniel added 16 for the Tar Heels, who overcame a slow start with a 21-0 first-half run. UNC shot 44 percent and scored 30 points off turnovers.
Cheyenne Brown had 14 points and 10 rebounds to lead Howard, which shot 34 percent.
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