Change is a tough thing. It gets even tougher when you are in a situation like the North Carolina women’s basketball program was last year.
Sylvia Hatchell had been an institution of women’s basketball at the university for seemingly forever, leading the team to 751 wins and the program’s first and only national title. For many years, Hatchell was UNC women’s basketball. The program had fallen on tough times, though, only making one NCAA tournament appearance in Hatchell’s final four seasons. Recruiting had taken a dip and good players that were in the program had begun to transfer out. A coaching change became necessary after concerning allegations against Hatchell came to light.
A new era of women’s basketball at North Carolina began this year under first year coach Courtney Banghart. The former Princeton Tiger head coach has given the program a facelift in only a few short months. The women are off to a 6-0 start, the best such start since 2014-15. They won the Cancun Challenge, their early season tournament, by beating Temple and Missouri by a combined 26 points. Aside from the record, there seems to be an excitement around the program, something that hasn’t been true in several years.
The wins are piling up early for Banghart in a year that many thought would be a transition year for the program. There is no doubting Coach Banghart’s resume. She won the national coach of the year award in 2015 after leading her Princeton Tigers to a 31-1 record. She boasts a .711 winning percentage in her career prior to this season. Banghart was the perfect hire for a program like North Carolina, who is looking to re-establish themselves as one of the powerhouses in women’s college hoops.
One of the more impressive things about Banghart’s first few months at North Carolina is the fact that she got a large majority of the players to come back to the program, even after a coaching change. But she is also building on that by putting together a very strong recruiting class. She currently has three players in ESPN’s HoopGurlz top 100 for the class of 2020 and an overall class rank of 11th.
There has never been a doubt about Banghart’s ability to coach. She has proven over time that she is one of the best in the game. But one of the most impressive parts about it is that she was doing it at a place like Princeton, where it is very tough to build a consistent winner, in part because it is so hard to recruit there. By coming to UNC, it becomes easier for Banghart to recruit, having a richer program history, allowing her to build a roster of better players.
ACC play could be a challenging test for this roster, considering it isn’t as deep as Tar Heel rosters that we are used to. But if Coach Banghart and the coaching staff can keep this team playing as well as they have so far, this will be a nice stepping stone for next year when she has her style of players on the team.
It’s been a while, but the North Carolina Lady Tar Heels basketball program is back on the rise, and that’s how it should be.