Sylvia Hatchell, North Carolina’s Hall of Fame women’s basketball coach, is not only bursting with energy in public but also looks ready to rejoin her team on the sideline.
She will need to wait a bit longer, though.
Hatchell, 61, who learned she had leukemia just before practice began in October and immediately began treatment, won’t be back to her regular duties until at least the ACC tournament.
She did her old friends at the Raleigh Sports Club a big favor for their regular Wednesday meeting at Highland United Methodist Church, addressing them in her first real public appearance – other thanwatching UNC home games and a short halftime speech at the Maryland game – since she was diagnosed with the blood cancer.
“This is the first time I’ve been out and done any speaking like this,” said Hatchell, who added she had averaged about 60 public speeches a year. “These (Raleigh Sports Club) people have been loyal to me for a long time.
“When I realized I was not going into the hospital (at UNC’s Lineberger Cancer Center) until tomorrow and my numbers were good, I asked my doctors and they said it would be OK to come. I just have to be careful about infections and stuff like that – I’ve got my mask in my pocket. I can’t shake hands or hug people.”
Hatchell joked that she wondered why all the media were there to see her when President Obama was speaking a couple of miles away, and joked again that numerous video cameras in the room needed to be turned off so the doctors wouldn’t see her not wearing a mask.
Accompanying her was assistant coach Ivory Latta, the Tar Heels’ former All-America point guard who also plays with the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.
“The whole way over she talked about how excited she was to come over here and speak,” Latta said. “It’s great she’s being active. She’s not letting her situation get her down.
“She has a great spirit. And I’m not surprised. She’s a warrior. Can’t too many things hold her down, trust me.”
With veteran assistant Andrew Calder coaching the Tar Heels on game days, the team is doing well. No. 9 UNC (14-3, 2-1 ACC) will host Clemson (9-8, 1-2) Thursday at 6 p.m.
“It’s tough,” Hatchell said of being away from the sideline. “I was just jumping all over my house Sunday when the girls were playing at Florida State and it was on TV.
“I take a lot of notes and talk to my players. Diamond (DeShields) got rookie of the week and I talked to her last night, and I met with all the freshmen yesterday.
“That’s my motivation, to work hard. I have a trainer and work out every day. It’s exciting to be around those kids. They make me feel better.”
Hatchell also said she knows she has to be patient before she can be back to her regular daily routine with the team.
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” she said. “We’re winning the marathon and things are good. When I return will be determined by my doctors. But I’ll be good to go in a couple of months.”
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