CAROLINA: The Face of a Program
After her career at UNC was over, Ivory Latta was the all-time leading scorer in school history and arguably the most beloved player in Carolina women's basketball history. She was fiery, vivacious and tough as nails. Her smile could brighten up any room, and she had as much on-court personality as she did off it, which made her insanely fun to watch.
Since she graduated in 2007, Latta has had a busy professional career, playing a full WNBA season before going overseas and playing there as well each year. It was starting to take its toll. That's when it first started to cross her mind that coaching might be in her future, if for no other reason than she could no longer keep up that rigorous playing schedule. "My body was telling me that ‘Hey, I need a rest, and there are some opportunities out there and I really need to rest,'" Latta said. "Some injuries, a lot of things played into it. But at the same time, I always knew coaching was in me."
She stayed in contact with Carolina head coach Sylvia Hatchell as often as she could. And when assistant coach Tricia Stafford-Odom left last year, she felt like she couldn't pass up on the chance to continue her WNBA career with the Washington Mystics and be an assistant coach at her alma mater. "It's been a long process, conversations going back and forth between me and Coach Hatchell. I just felt it was a good decision, a great opportunity that I couldn't pass up, another opportunity to be close to my family," Latta said. "Also, me coming back and coaching at my alma mater, it was a great thing."
Latta, true to form, said she wasn't really nervous about any aspect of coaching. Hatchell hired her so that she could be herself, playing a role in recruiting while also developing the guards. But there was one thing she didn't really want to have to do.
"I would say the only part I was worried about was a lot of paperwork," Latta said, laughing. "But the coaching aspect of the game, no, I wasn't worried about it because my instinct will kick in. I know the game of basketball. I played a long time. I played there at Carolina. So I know what's expected. It's only right for me to just go out there and give back to the young kids that are there to make sure they're doing the right things that they're supposed to."
Latta is more of the good cop, providing almost a peer-type relationship to the girls (she's still pretty close to them in age, remember) while still being tough with them when necessary. But there are a lot of young and talented guards on this roster, and having been in the position to play early herself, she feels she has a lot to offer.
The biggest role she's played so far as an assistant, though, was one she couldn't have anticipated. When Hatchell was diagnosed with leukemia before the season began, it became clear as soon as the annual Late Night festivities that Latta-more so than interim head coach Andrew Calder-was ready to be the voice and face of the program in Hatchell's absence. She's already done a few speaking engagements Hatchell was slated for in addition to basically emceeing the women's basketball portion of Late Night.
And why not, right? She was the face of the program as a player, too, whether she liked it or not. And whether she likes it or not now, it's what she has to do.
"Am I comfortable with it? It depends on the situation. But at the same time, that's what I knew I had to step up and do," Latta said. "That's what Coach Hatchell wanted me to do. She said, ‘Hey, take on my speaking engagements. I know you're going do well and I have no problem with that.' So it's something where I'm not going to let her down.
"Whether I want to do it or not, I'm going to step up there do it to the best of my ability and represent her and the team as well as I can."
It's a lot more responsibility than she thought she'd have in her first year as an assistant coach. Latta always had big dreams and goals for herself as a player, but she now knows what the life of a coach is like in terms of the day-to-day volatility of it all.
She says she has no idea what her future will be in coaching, but is going to live in the moment for now. Even as she has to take on a bigger role, she just sees it as another obstacle to clear. And she has plenty of experience at that. "It's just made me step up more than what I expected, put me in a position where I didn't think I would be until maybe two years in the game or something," Latta said.
"I can't complain about it. I won't. I don't mind. I love taking on challenges."