Conversations with Hall of Famers Sylvia Hatchell and Dawn Staley

READ MORE: Hatchell and Staley Enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame

North Carolina head coach Sylvia Hatchell and former Virginia standout Dawn Staley will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame during its Enshrinement Ceremony on Sunday, Sept. 8  in Springfield, Mass. Hatchell is the second ACC women’s basketball coach to be inducted, while Staley is the first former ACC women’s basketball student-athlete to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame … Hatchell and Staley join the late NC State head coach Kay Yow as the ACC women’s basketball representatives in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame … Hatchell is a three-time National Coach of the Year honoree and is the third Division I women’s coach to win 900 career games. She is the only coach in history to win national championships at three different levels (AIAW, NAIA and NCAA) … Since taking over at North Carolina in 1986, Hatchell has led the Tar Heels to three NCAA Final Fours, eight ACC Championships and the 1994 NCAA Championship … Staley was a three-time Olympic Gold Medalist (1996, 2000, 2004), five-time WNBA All-Star and two-time National College Player of the Year (1991-92). Staley is a three-time Kodak All-America selection from the University of Virginia and still hosts the NCAA career record for steals (454) … Staley is the only player in women’s college basketball history to record 2,000, 700 assists and 400 steals. 

Coach Hatchell and Coach Staley, you’ve both received so many honors over the years, but is the Naismith Hall of Fame the pinnacle?

SYLVIA HATCHELL: I’ve told a lot of people that that this is the next best thing to heaven. For a basketball guru, it doesn’t get any better than the Naismith Hall of Fame. I’ve run into a lot of my buddies and older coaches, including Joe Gallagher, who has coached at the college level and in the NBA. I saw him two weeks ago and he said, ‘Do you realize what’s getting ready to happen?’ And I said, ‘I know, Joe. The only thing any better than this is heaven.’

DAWN STALEY: It is a pinnacle, for a lot of reasons. I think it is the highest honor that you can achieve as an individual. I also think it is a reflection of the love and the work you have put into the game. I think anyone who is blessed enough to have such an honor bestowed on them has to love the game, has to be extremely disciplined, and has to have a passion about the game of basketball. This isn’t one of those awards that just anyone can walk off the street and achieve.

Coach Hatchell, even back when you were winning national championships at Francis Marion, did you envision anything like this?

SYLVIA HATCHELL: No, I really didn’t. That was so far out there, I didn’t think anything like this would ever happen. The last few years I’ve thought about some more things I want to accomplish in coaching. There are several things I want to do, like writing a book – and that’s almost complete – and other a few other things that people call their ‘bucket list.’ The Naismith Hall of Fame was on my bucket list, there is no doubt about that. Would it ever happen? I didn’t know. But every morning I wake up now and think, ‘Man, is this for real?’

Coach Staley, it wasn’t that long ago that we were watching you play at Virginia and in the WNBA. Now here you are, entering the Naismith Hall of Fame just a few months after your 43rd birthday.  Has it all sunk in yet?

DAWN STALEY: It hasn’t. It was shocking really, because I still think of myself as pretty young, and these honors, in my mind, are for older people who have been in basketball longer and have had time to reflect. I really don’t feel like I’ve had time to reflect, because I am still very much into the game through coaching and affecting lives and being part of basketball every single day. It kind of jolted me into reflecting on my career.

Coach Hatchell, it has kind of been a whirlwind the last couple of decades – an NCAA championship, over 900 wins, and suddenly you look up and you’re the winningest active women’s coach …

SYLVIA HATCHELL: Well, I’ll tell you this: I really have (former UNC athletics director and current ACC Commissioner) John Swofford to thank for a lot of that because he hired me at North Carolina and gave me an opportunity when I was at little Francis Marion. He believed in me – and my first few years here we were not very good. We really, really struggled. But through that whole time, he would say, ‘You’re my coach and I believe in you.’ That motivated me, because I wanted to do so well for him. John has been a big, big part of my success.

Coach Hatchell, the University of North Carolina as a whole is pretty well represented in the Naismith Hall of Fame, but you are the first person to go in representing the women’s basketball program there. What does that mean to you?

SYLVIA HATCHELL: I was looking at a list the other day, and I believe there were 10 (representatives) from North Carolina there. Just the fact that Dean Smith and Roy (Williams) and Michael Jordan and James Worthy and guys like that are all in … I mean, gosh, what an honor. I did an interview with someone the other day and they pointed out that North Carolina will now be the only school in the country with an active men’s and women’s coach in the Naismith Hall of Fame. 

Coach Staley, how long did it take after the Hall of Fame announcement before you heard from (former Virginia coach) Debbie Ryan?

DAWN STALEY: Debbie probably knew before I did. She always seems to get the information before I do. She called me the day they announced that I was being inducted. I think she is a big reason why I am celebrating this weekend with the Hall of Fame honor.

Coach Staley, what were some of the things you learned from her that have carried over into your own coaching career?

DAWN STALEY: Debbie was one who allowed me to play through my mistakes and learn from my mistakes. When Debbie got to me at 18 years old, I wasn’t a player who had been exposed to a lot of different types of basketball. I think she felt like the best way to approach me and to teach me was to have me learn through the mistakes that I made along the way. She could see that I am a perfectionist. I don’t like hearing my name associated with mistakes repetitively . She picked up on that very early on. She let me work through those mistakes, and for that I believe that I am a better coach. I can appreciate other styles of play. She encouraged me to use my creativity on the basketball court. And off the court, I just learned how to navigate through life. Basketball was my world, and socially I was probably a little more inept. She taught me how to talk to people, how to communicate, how to look someone in the eye. She just kind of brought me out of my shyness and exposed me to ways things had to be done outside of my comfort zone.

Coach Hatchell, the ACC as a whole is well represented in the Naismith Hall of Fame. It is quite an impressive list, isn’t it?

SYLVIA HATCHELL: I looked at that list carefully, because your presenters (at the Hall of Fame ceremony) have to come from there. Pat Summit was supposed to be my presenter, but we learned a few days ago that due to health reasons she isn’t going to be able to make the trip. So I started looking at the list. It’s really not that long of a list, but I started looking at it and just went, ‘Wow! This is pretty incredible.’

Coach Hatchell, who is going to be your presenter now?

SYLVIA HATCHELL: Since Pat is not going to be able to come, it will be Hubie Brown and Nancy Lieberman.  Hubie and I go back a long way, and he has been so good to me over the years helping me with strategy. He always takes my phone calls, always calls me back. We’d sit down together in the summer on Nike trips and just X and O for hours and hours and hours. A few years ago, I came back from one of those trips and I wanted to put some of his stuff in. I called him up because I was a little confused, and I started asking a lot of questions because I wanted to go over it with my staff. He said, ‘Send me a plane ticket.’ I said, ‘What, are you serious?’ He said, ‘Yes, just send me a plane ticket.’ And he came up here and spent two days on the court with my staff. He didn’t ask for a penny or anything. He just has a passion for it, and he loved teaching my staff.  And Nancy Lieberman will be there. I wanted a female who has done a lot for the game, so she and Hubie will be there and will escort me onto the stage.

Coach Staley, who will present for you?

DAWN STALEY: (Women’s basketball gold medalists) Teresa Edwards and Katrina McClain. Of all the Hall of Famers, I could have chosen a lot them. Michael Jordan is one that comes to mind. But I don’t have a relationship with Michael other than being a fan of his play. There are members that played for the 76ers that I watched growing up (in Philadelphia). But I chose people that I was I the foxhole with, people I have watched and learned from on a daily basis more than a decade ago, and people that I really have a bond with.

Coach Hatchell, do you feel like the ACC has provided a good platform for you to showcase your coaching talents over the years?

SYLVIA HATCHELL: I tell everybody all the time that the ACC is the best basketball conference in the country. And now with the teams that we’ve added, there’s no question about it. You look at the women’s teams now – we’re adding Louisville and Notre Dame, Syracuse, Pittsburgh – and it’s unbelievable. People have known about ACC men’s basketball for years, but the commitment John Swofford and the ACC have made to women’s basketball has been tremendous. He hired Bernadette McGlade there first (as Associate Commissioner for Women’s Basketball), and now with Nora Lynn Finch, he has put women of experience and power in those positions.

Coach Hatchell, you’ve talked before about how the ACC Tournament has grown with that commitment in place.

SYLVIA HATCHELL: There is no doubt that we have the best tournament in the country. I don’t think there is anyone who would argue with that, even from all the other conferences.

Coach Staley, you are currently an SEC coach, but you played in the ACC at the time when it seemed just as competitive and talent-filled as it does now. Did that help you elevate your game?

DAWN STALEY: Absolutely. The ACC is one of the best conferences in the country, and it certainly was when I played. I may be biased because I was in it, but I also know we had some of the top teams in the country and some of the top players who have ever played the game, and that was night-in and night-out. Our league was very competitive and the depth and parity were very evident when I played.

Coach Hatchell, you’ll be going into the Naismith Hall of Fame with Dawn Staley, another representative of our league and someone you competed against and know very well.

SYLVIA HATCHELL: When I first came to Carolina, Dawn was playing at Virginia, and she was such a great player. She’s had a tremendous career as a player, and now she is making her reputation as a coach. I spent some time with her the weekend of the men’s Final Four, when we were introduced. It’s an honor to be going in with Dawn, and just this whole class. Bernard King will be inducted, and he was playing at Tennessee when I was there (as Junior varsity coach). It is going to be a lot of fun to be with all of these folks and spend the weekend there at the Hall of Fame.

Coach Staley, did you enjoy that competition with Coach Hatchell as a player?

DAWN STALEY: Absolutely, and we’re still competing against one another as coaches now. It goes to show how powerful the ACC is, to have coaches like her inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. I think she has been great for our game. She has been a pioneer, and the fact that she has had so much longevity in the game speaks volumes.

And, Coach Hatchell, the ACC will have one more connection to this year’s class next year when Louisville comes aboard next summer, with Coach (Rick) Pitino also being inducted this weekend.

SYLVIA HATCHELL: Yes, that’s right, and I was able to spend some time with him as well. Even though he was playing for the national championship, he came to (Naismith) press conference and the dinner and all of those things. I couldn’t believe he was doing all of that with his team playing at the Final Four, but he did. This whole class is quite an elite group.

Coach Hatchell, how many former players and friends have you heard from in the past few months?

SYLVIA HATCHELL: Oh, my gosh. When they announced this, my phone was about to blow up. I am here in my office now, and I am looking at two stacks of cards. Each one of them is over a foot high, and I’ve got a big basket of cards at my house. And then, of course, there have been the emails and the texts. It has just been overwhelming to hear from so many people. I never envisioned being in this situation when I first started coaching, and it doesn’t seem like it has been that long. I still have some things in front of me. I want to win some more championships. I still have that passion for competing, and I don’t feel that old until I look in the mirror, and then I say, ‘Gosh, who’s that?’

Coach Staley, in addition to Coach Ryan, the flood of phone calls and emails has probably been pretty much non-stop for you as well, hasn’t it?

DAWN STALEY: It has. It is really touching to hear from players that I played with and players that I played against. I wasn’t prepared to reflect on my career, and they kind of forced me into doing it. It just reinforces the love and passion I have for the game, why I played and why I still every single day still fall in love with the game. It is a gift that keeps on giving to me. I just think it is the purest form of a sport when you are able to play it for the right reasons.

Coach Hatchell, you will join Kay Yow as one of two women’s coaches from the ACC in Naismith Hall of Fame.

SYLVIA HATCHELL: Yes, and let me mention this: If Kay were still alive, I would have asked her to be one of my presenters --- probably Pat and Kay. It’s times like these when I think about Kay and appreciate all of what she has done for women’s basketball, and for me personally.

Coach Staley, you are the first former ACC women’s player to be inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame. What are the next goals and challenges you’ve set for yourself?

DAWN STALEY: This feels so good, I’d like to get inducted next as a coach. I need a couple of national championships to help me do that. We’ll just keep trying to affect lives on a daily basis, and maybe the pieces will fall into place for us to do that.