North Carolina wasted little time in moving on from the controversy that ended the 33-year career of Hall of Fame women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell by naming Princeton’s Courtney Banghart as its new coach Tuesday.
But that doesn’t mean the Tar Heels have completely divorced themselves from Hatchell’s legacy in Chapel Hill, which included 751 victories and the 1994 national championship.
Both Banghart and athletic director Bubba Cunningham made direct references to the former coach during a teleconference on which the change in the program’s leadership was announced.
“We narrowed down the choices very quickly to outstanding candidates,” Cunningham said. “And in the end, we knew that Courtney’s proven record of leadership, her development of players, her winning on the court and the classroom, and her commitment to the full student-athlete experience made her the best choice to build on the great Carolina basketball tradition that Coach Hatchell has built over the past 30 years.”
Hatchell and her staff were put on administrative leave on April 1 after issues were raised by several of her players and others associated with the women’s basketball program. She resigned three weeks later after an independent review uncovered concerns over “racially insensitive” comments and the pressuring of team members to continue playing despite injuries.
Although the circumstances surrounding Hatchell’s departure were less ideal, she still apparently is held in high regard. Banghart even said she plans to seek out the 67-year-old former coach’s council once she arrives in Chapel Hill later this week.
“I’m looking forward to spending time with Coach Hatchell and thanking her for what she has built and how she’s prepared it for the next opportunity,” Banghart said.
Cunningham, asked specifically about the criteria he used in searching for a new coach, implied that no one was ruled out because of a prior association with UNC or Hatchell.
“We were looking for the absolute best coach we could find,” he said. “And Courtney rose to the top.”
Banghart comes to UNC following an impressive 12-year tenure a Princeton, where she is the winningest coach in program history with a 254-103 record. She led the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament eight times, winning seven Ivy League championship along the way while earning Naismith National Coach of the Year honors in 2015 for leading her team went a perfect 30-0 during the regular season.
A graduate of Dartmouth, she holds a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience. On the court, she set an Ivy League record with 273 career 3-pointers.
The 40-year-old New Hampshire native said that the UNC job is one of the few she would have considered leaving Princeton to take. But because this will be her first association with a program outside of the Ivy League, there are questions as to how smooth her transition will be.
She addressed them head-on Tuesday, saying that recruiting better players might actually be easier since she’ll have scholarships to offer — a luxury she didn’t have at Princeton. Even without that advantage, that she was still able to recruit a “high major starting five.”
“My job is going to be about bringing on the right people and that goes with my staff and the players,” Banghart said. “The recruiting will be an exciting thing because you’re recruiting to a place you believe in. It will be somewhat similar (to Princeton), but it will be a little different.”
As confident as she is in her ability to attract top talent to Chapel Hill, the new coach said she plans to surround herself with a staff with experience in areas she doesn’t.
“There is going to be a learning curve like there is in any new journey,” she said. “But I’ve always been curious in learning about all the differences that exist across every institution, regardless of level. I will be eager to learn, but I do have some experience.”
Her first recruiting job will be convincing those already in the program to stay on board, including the three scholarship players — juniors Stephanie Watts and Destinee Walker, and sophomore Jocelyn Jones — that have entered the NCAA’s transfer portal.
Banghart said she has “compassion” for the holdovers because of the disruption they’ve been through because of Hatchell’s departure. But she added that she’s more interested in planning for the future than worrying about what’s happened in the past.
“I really look forward to meeting the players,” Banghart said. “I’m eager to wrap my arms around them and learn about their reasons for choosing Carolina and their dreams for what’s ahead.
“That will include the players that have chosen North Carolina and are standing by it. That will also include people that have chosen North Carolina and there was a gap in what they were hoping for. So I look forward to meeting both sets of people and (identifying) the people that are as excited about our journey moving forward as I am.”