CHAPEL HILL – North Carolina’s Sylvia Hatchell said Thursday she could return to coaching after battling leukemia if the Tar Heels reach the Final Four.
Fourth-seeded UNC faces No. 1 seed South Carolina in California at this weekend’s Stanford Regional. Hatchell said her doctor wouldn’t allow her to make the cross-country flight but told her being on the sideline in Nashville, Tenn., the following week is “very doable.”
“He said I’ve done amazingly well because I have not had any problems, just done fantastic,” Hatchell said. “He said, ‘You’re too close to the end to take any chances,’ which I understand.”
Hatchell was diagnosed with the illness last fall shortly after being inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame with more than 900 career victories, three Final Four trips and the 1994 NCAA Championship.
Associate head coach Andrew Calder has been leading the Tar Heels this season.
Hatchell completed her last round of chemotherapy earlier this month.
She is waiting for her immune system to recover and arrived at Carmichael Arena wearing a surgical mask.
“I hope I look pretty good to y’all,” she told reporters, “because I feel pretty good.”
Hatchell has said her illness is in remission and that she would be in a supporting role if she returns this year.
She said Thursday she doesn’t want to “upset anything” by taking over her full head-coaching duties now for a team filled with freshmen who have yet to play a game under her.
Hatchell has stayed involved with the team all year, from periodically giving pregame talks to the team to taking notes while watching games from home and meeting individually with the players.
Star freshman Diamond DeShields said Hatchell’s potential return is another motivation for the Tar Heels (26-9), who had to rally from 18 down in the second half to beat UT Martin in their tournament opener before dominating Michigan State in the second round.
“Winning is one step closer, every day is one step closer to her coming back,” DeShields said. “So, that (has) been the mindset all season. Like she says, she sees the light at the end of the tunnel. And we see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“So, I definitely think it’ll increase our motivation and purpose out there on the floor.”