- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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Sylvia Hatchell was early in her coaching tenure at North Carolina when freshman sensation Dawn Staley came to Virginia.
"I can remember them beating us pretty badly," Hatchell said, chuckling, "and Dawn just dribbling over to the sideline and asking [Cavaliers coach] Debbie Ryan, 'Debbie, what do you want us to run now?'
"The Dawn Staley era at Virginia was so successful, but that was the case everywhere she played. She's got three Olympic gold medals, played in the WNBA. For her to be so young and be in the Hall of Fame as a player … hey, down the road maybe she'll be inducted again as a coach."
Perhaps so. But in September in Springfield, Mass., it will be a cherished honor for Staley to go into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a player. That has been one of her lifelong goals, and she'll have company from someone else in the women's hoops world.
The announcement came Monday that both Staley and Hatchell will be part of the 2013 Naismith class. The two were honored Monday in Atlanta at halftime of the men's championship game.
Both Staley and Hatchell have histories at the Final Four, of course. Staley led the Cavaliers to the national semifinals in 1990, '91 and '92, and the final in '91. Hatchell's Tar Heels won the national title in 1994 with the most dramatic finish in women's NCAA championship history: Charlotte Smith's 3-pointer with seven-tenths of a second left.
North Carolina also went to the Women's Final Four in 2006 and '07. Before taking over at Chapel Hill in 1986, Hatchell won two national championships with Francis Marion in South Carolina.
Staley was a two-time national player of the year for Virginia and then played in the ABL and the WNBA. She spent most of her eight-year WNBA career in Charlotte and finished at Houston.
She was part of gold-medal winning U.S. Olympic squads in 1996, 2000 and 2004. The 1996 Olympic team, in particular, was hugely important to the growth of women's basketball. That squad crushed all its foes in taking the gold in Atlanta, where the games were a popular draw. That team's success was a springboard for the short-lived ABL and for the WNBA, which will begin its 17th season this year.
"I do think about how I played the game," Staley said when asked how she has reflected on her college and pro careers since getting the news about the Hall of Fame. "I've heard from a lot of my former teammates and other people. You don't really know the impact you have until people tell you.
"Over the years, I've also heard from a lot of guys who watched me play at Virginia, and they tell me the reason why they started watching the women's game was because of when I played. I hope I was able to help people appreciate the sport."
Staley was still an active player when she began the extremely demanding balancing act of being a college coach. Her head-coaching career began at Temple in 2000, where she was 172-80 in eight years. She didn't retire as a player until after the 2006 WNBA season.
In 2008, Staley left Temple in her native Philadelphia for the challenge of trying to build a program at South Carolina in the SEC. There, she is 92-66 in five seasons, including a trip to the NCAA Sweet 16 last year. Each season she has been in Columbia, S.C., her team's record has improved. South Carolina was 25-8 overall this season and 11-5 in the SEC.
The Gamecocks were upset by Kansas in the second round of the NCAA tournament, but Staley is happy with the progress of her program. Enough so that she opted to pull her name out of consideration recently for the Ohio State job.
"The people here are very supportive in South Carolina," Staley said. "When the governor calls me to make it known that I was an asset to the state when I was in talks with Ohio State … if you have something special like that, I think good things will happen."
Certainly, a lot of good already has happened in women's basketball that is related to Hatchell and Staley. This season, Hatchell crossed the 900-win threshold, as her Tar Heels tied for second in the ACC and then advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament. North Carolina lost to Delaware on the Blue Hens' home court.
Next season, with what's considered the top recruiting class, the Tar Heels have high hopes.
"We're going to be young," Hatchell said. "But I'm going to put those kids out there into the fire and let them grow up. I'm excited about it."
When she got the news that she had been voted into the Hall of Fame, Hatchell was excited, sure, but also just plain shocked.
"I couldn't believe it that I was even nominated," said Hatchell, who has 908 career victories, second only to Tennessee's Pat Summitt. "Then, when they called me and told me I was going in, I was sitting in the parking lot of the grocery store. I just sat in the car for 15 or 20 minutes. I was just stunned. I almost had to call somebody to drive me back to campus.
"I still find myself saying, 'Am I going to wake up? Is this a dream?' I've got to admit, this was on my bucket list."