North Carolina Women's Basketball Site
By Milton Kent
More than 300 Division I coaches would have gladly settled for a 19-12 regular season mark that included a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
None of those coaches work at North Carolina, and none of them are named Sylvia Hatchell, for whom last year's mark, which included a 6-8 ACC record, was uncharacteristic.
But the smile has returned to Hatchell's face as she and the Tar Heels turn the page from the worst year in the previous nine in Chapel Hill.
Most of the happiness stems on two fronts from the return of senior Jessica Breland. Not only has the 6-foot-3 forward beaten the Hodgkin's Lymphoma that caused her to miss last season, but Breland comes back seemingly at the peak of her powers, which had her named preseason ACC Player of the Year last year.
Breland, who runs the floor exceptionally well for a frontcourt player, should kick start the North Carolina transition game as well as provide another lanky defender for the vaunted traps Hatchell likes to deploy.
Five other North Carolina starters return, including a talented backcourt. Seniors Italee Lucas and Cetera DeGraffenreid both averaged over 14 points and 2.5 assists per game. The guard duo and Breland form the first trio in school history to each have 1,000 career points.
Sophomore Tierra Ruffin-Pratt will join DeGraffenreid and Lucas on the perimeter, while junior Clay Shegog will start upfront with Breland. Junior Laura Broomfield, who got most of the starts last year for Breland, will come off the bench to help bolster the frontcourt.
Freshman guards Latifah Coleman and Shannon Smith should assist junior She'la White and senior Nicole Powell in backing up Lucas and DeGraffenreid at the guard slots, giving North Carolina remarkable depth in the backcourt.
In addition to welcoming back Breland, the Tar Heels will move back into a renovated Carmichael Arena, with a brand-new video scoreboard, refurbished lockerrooms and a women's basketball museum. If things go well, they may need space for another championship banner in the rafters.