From the Desk
In the month of March, apparently there is more to life than basketball — although this is news to me.
For years, I have been enamored with the NCAA Tournament and March Madness, and this year is no different. I am one of those crazies who will have three different games open at the same time during the first few rounds.
People have plenty of opinions as to what the greatest sporting spectacle is every year, but I will take the magic and madness of March any day.
For the teams that enter the tournament on both the men’s and women’s sides, they simply try to survive and advance, hoping to take home the coveted title of national champion.
For the fans like me, the NCAA Tournament is a time to relish every moment of exciting basketball and hope our brackets are not busted too quickly.
And for others, the tournament means so much more.
This is the case for Sylvia Hatchell, the head coach of UNC women’s basketball team, and her players.
In the 2014 women’s tournament — and the entire 2013-2014 season — Hatchell was separated from her team, as she spent her days receiving treatments for Leukemia.
According to Hatchell, at this time last year when all she wanted to do was see her team, she was not allowed to make the short trip to Carmichael Arena four miles from her house, even with a surgical mask. The risk was too high.
“Watching what she had to go through last year, that really is an eye-opener,” UNC sophomore forward Stephanie Mavunga said following the Tar Heels win over the Liberty Lady Flames in the first round of the tournament Saturday. “She had to go through a lot. I don’t know if I could’ve done it.”
This year is a different story, though. Hatchell, a Naismith Hall of Famer who has more than 900 career wins, has won her battle with Leukemia and is back at the helm for the Tar Heels.
“It’s a whole different thing (with Hatchell back),” Mavunga said. “It’s like, ‘Man, my mom’s here.’ She’s like a mama bear around us. She really takes care of us on and off the court. If I get hit (in the post), I’m getting hit, and Coach Hatchell’s not having it. She’s like, ‘Hey, my player’s getting killed in there!’ … It’s different when your mom’s coming out there and saying, ‘Yo, watch it, they’re hitting my kid!’ She’s not going for that.”
And Hatchell’s team is ready to play for her, more than for themselves or for the desire for glory.
“I know last year, (Hatchell) had the possibility of going to the Final Four with us if we would’ve made it, and we didn’t,” Mavunga said. “So having her back, we want to cherish those moments. … Coach Hatchell loves to win, and so we’ve got to do it for her.”
UNC senior guard Latifah Coleman echoed Mavunga’s sentiments.
“(Having Hatchell back adds) more fuel to the fire,” Coleman said. “There’s more purpose behind what we do.”
In the same way, Hatchell is in it for her team — not herself.
“I’m just glad to be back out there,” Hatchell said. “… This whole week I have been so stressed out, and it’s a good stress, because I was so excited about the tournament. … I cherish this week and opportunity to coach these kids and to be here. I just don’t want to let these kids down.”
So to those who think us basketball fans are crazy for devoting so much time to the sport of basketball or that it is not important in the grand scheme of life, think again.
March Madness is more than a collection of embarrassing brackets filled with laughable picks, and basketball is more than just a game.
BROWN is the editor-in-chief