Sports

North Carolina women’s basketball coaches under internal investigation

The North Carolina women’s basketball coaching staff has been placed on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation into “issues raised by student-athletes and others,” the school said in a press release.

That includes head coach Sylvia Hatchell and her three assistants, a spokesperson confirmed.

Hatchell has coached at North Carolina since 1986 and is in the national Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. She is the only women’s basketball coach to win national championships at three different levels — AIAW, NAIA, and NCAA.

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“The Charlotte-based firm Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein will conduct the review and assess the culture of the women’s basketball program and the experience of our student-athletes,” the school’s statement said.

Hatchell issued a statement Monday afternoon via a spokesperson for her Raleigh-based attorney Wade Smith:

“I’ve had the privilege of coaching more than 200 young women during my 44 years in basketball,” her statement read. “My goal has always been to help them become the very best people they can be, on the basketball court and in life.

“I love each and every one of the players I’ve coached and would do anything to encourage and support them. They are like family to me. I love them all.

“Of course, I will cooperate fully in this review. I look forward to a prompt conclusion of this matter and the continuation of our very successful women’s basketball program.”

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UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell, center, flanked by her assistants Andrew Calder, and Sylvia Crawley direct the Tar Heels to victory over N.C. State Sunday in the semi finals of the ACC Tournament in the Greensboro Coliseum in 2002. Robert Willett Robert Willett

Hatchell has won a national title in 1994 along with eight ACC championships, the most recent in 2008, and has taken the Tar Heels to three Final Fours. In recent years, transfers out of her program and the unfulfilled specter of sanctions amid a long-running NCAA investigation have defined Hatchell’s tenure more than anything on the court. The beginning of the downturn began, perhaps, with the transfers of several players around whom Hatchell had hoped to build the future of her program.

At the time those players signed with UNC in late 2012, during their senior year of high school, Hatchell said in a statement that their arrival would “immediately” make the Tar Heels “a contender for national championships for years to come.” After only one season at UNC, though, Diamond DeShields, considered the best player among her standout class, announced her intention to transfer.

Hatchell expressed shock at DeShields’ decision to leave. In a statement released by the school in April, 2014, Hatchell said, “I do not know or understand why Diamond DeShields has decided to leave the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.”

DeShields’ departure represented the beginning of an exodus. One year later, the other three members of her signing class – Allisha Gray, Stephanie Mavunga and Jessica Washington – also left. Hatchell missed the 2013-14 season, which was Deshields’ only season at UNC, while undergoing treatment for leukemia. By the time Hatchell returned for the 2014-15 season, her program appeared in turmoil.

Amid the backdrop of those transfers and the on-court woes that followed, Hatchell acknowledged in 2016 that she felt like the women’s basketball program had become a scapegoat for what was then a two-year-old NCAA investigation. The investigation focused on how suspect African Studies courses benefited athletes, but it appeared to target women’s basketball more than other programs.

The NCAA enforcement staff charged Jan Boxill, a former academic counselor for the women’s basketball program, with providing improper help to players. Boxill was the only athletic-related staff member, in any sport, to be charged with such wrongdoing. That fed Hatchell’s perception that her program was being targeted.

“I’m heartbroken that this has happened to women’s basketball, that we’ve been put in this position,” Hatchell said in the spring of 2016. “And so it’s hard to believe, to be honest with you.”

Like UNC’s other teams, women’s basketball escaped sanctions when the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions concluded, in October 2017, that NCAA rules didn’t cover the university’s wrongdoing. Even so, Hatchell’s program has struggled in recent years to regain the stature it once had.

The Tar Heels missed the NCAA tournament in 2016, 2017 and 2018, the longest gap in almost 30 years at North Carolina. This year’s team went 18-15 and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Tar Heels beat No. 1 Notre Dame 78-73 at home on Jan. 27. A week later, they beat No. 7 N.C. State 64-51, handing the Wolfpack its first loss of the season.

“We’re going in the right direction,” Hatchell said after the Notre Dame win. “The future looks great. I want to get us back to where people expect us to be, and where we expect us to be. I love this team. Those kids are really great and they’ve worked so hard.”

Efforts to reach North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham Monday afternoon were unsuccessful.

Associate head coach Andrew Calder, who served as interim coach in 2013-14 while Hatchell was undergoing treatment, has been with the program for 33 years. The other assistant coaches are former UNC player Sylvia Crawley and recruiting coordinator Bett Shelby.

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Staff writer Andrew Carter contributed to this report

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