Latta Named ACC Player Of The Year
March 3, 2006
By AARON BEARD
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) - Ivory Latta never minded the bumps, bruises, scratches and sprains that she seemed to pick up every time she stepped on the hardwood. Nor did she listen to the jeers from opposing fans who just couldn't stand her irrepressible smile.
"Every game pretty much I'm smiling," she said with a laugh. "That's just me."
Latta's demeanor - part determined floor leader, part giggly, fun-loving youngster - has made her a unique fit as leader of top-ranked North Carolina during one of its most successful seasons ever. And that's a big reason why Latta was named the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year by The Associated Press on Friday.
Latta, who ranked second in the ACC with 18 points per game, earned 51 of 70 votes from the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association. Duke's Monique Currie - last year's winner - finished second with 11 votes after averaging 16 points for the nation's No. 2-ranked team.
Latta's win breaks Duke's six-year hold on the award that began after North Carolina State's Summer Erb won in 1999. She is the fourth player in North Carolina history to win the honor, joining Tresa Brown (1984), Pam Leake (1985-86) and Tracy Reid (1997-98).
The junior ranked among the ACC leaders in several categories, leading the league in free-throw percentage (85.8) while ranking third in 3-point shooting (45.3 percent), fourth in assists (5.2) and tying for fourth in steals (2.3).
All that production comes in a small bundle. She stands just 5 feet, 6 inches - coach Sylvia Hatchell admits she's probably at least an inch and a half shorter - and weighs 130 pounds.
Yet nothing stands out more than her exuberance as she tirelessly runs the floor in the Tar Heels' transition attack. It's constantly on display, whether she's jumping on teammate La'Tangela Atkinson to celebrate a basket during Friday's ACC tournament win against Virginia or the way she laughed off an early bad pass that sailed out of bounds.
"My dad always told me to do the things you love to do," she said, "and when you do, do it with pride, do it with joy, do it as if God wanted you to do it."
That fun-loving personality makes her a natural leader on a team that feeds off her emotion. It also makes her the top target of opposing fans, who accuse her of acting as she constantly gets banged on the perimeter or knocked to the ground in the lane.
Duke fans even went as far as to hold up pictures of an Oscar award when she limped around on a rolled ankle during the regular-season finale against the Blue Devils.
Latta's used to it, saying she's so small that she feels every bump or nudge. And she doesn't take the heckling personally, laughing off the Oscar jabs by saying, "That's pretty good to get an Oscar, ain't it?"
Hatchell said that attitude is why her office has received letters and e-mails over the years from people who said watching Latta made them fans of women's basketball.
Hatchell even pointed to a letter to the editor that appeared in The News & Observer of Raleigh after the newspaper ran a front-page feature on Latta. The reader - who was recovering from depression - wrote that watching Latta "was one of the few things I truly enjoyed."
"She has a passion for it, there's no doubt about that," Hatchell said. "And it's contagious. ... She makes people happy."
Latta almost sounds embarrassed by all the attention. She talks about wanting her teammates to get more acclaim and credits them for her success and for making the game fun.
"Coach says you've got to have fun," Latta said. "If you're not having fun, you're not going to win and you're not going to be happy."