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Feb. 28, 2012
Things haven't always been smooth for Sylvia Crawley's Boston College Eagles this season, and when trouble arises, the coach has a figure in mind. It's neither even (like Four as in Final Four) nor odd (like No. 1 in the land) nor whole (like, well, virtually every other celebrated number in sports history).
Seven-tenths. Rarely has something so small been so loaded.
That was the fraction of a second that remained on the clock when Crawley's North Carolina Tar Heels in-bounded the ball while trailing Louisiana Tech by one (full) point in the 1994 NCAA championship game. What followed was a shot that made the Tar Heels champions and gave them an allegory about perseverance that they can share for a lifetime.
It is, to some extent, a story about a tall kid from Ohio who went from unrecruited to the forefront of her sport and who is now the ACC Legend for her alma mater while coaching another team in the conference.
"Nobody wanted Sylvia Crawley," UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said moments after that historic day in Richmond, Va.
Crawley's skills hadn't caught up with her height at that stage of her development, but by attempting hundreds of shots a night while seated in a chair in the middle of the foul lane, she built strength and form. In time, she became the defensive centerpiece and captain of a program with similar transformation. In her freshman season as a player, the Tar Heels went 2-12 in the ACC, including a 37-point loss at Virginia after which Hatchell vowed to convene practice the minute the bus returned to Chapel Hill.
Still among North Carolina's career leaders in blocked shots and field-goal percentage, among other statistics, she represented the United States in five international competitions and was an alternate for the 1996 Olympic team. A long and distinguished professional career took her to teams in Italy, Spain and France and back home to the WNBA and its short-lived predecessor, the American Basketball League. (She won that league's dunk contest with a blind-folded slam in 1998).
Crawley got into coaching and took on a difficult challenge. The Ohio University Bobcats had struggled through eight consecutive losing seasons when they hired the former UNC and Fordham assistant in 2006. An instant makeover resulted, as Crawley's Bobcats went 20-12 in the Mid-American Conference and 38-25 overall in two seasons.
She was off to Boston College, where her first three Eagle teams won 60 games. This year's team lost its first 10 ACC contests but struck with victories at Virginia Tech and at home against Clemson.
And as they look into the ACC Tournament and the future, they'll probably be asked to remember a number that forgot about time.