Van Hatchell More Than Just Sylvia's Son at North Carolina
He was on a first-name basis only with many fellow students during his freshman year at the University of North Carolina. He also had a standard response for those who quizzed him about his parents, specifically his mother. He simply offered she worked in the school's athletic department, quickly changing the subject while figuring not many would press him for a more detailed explanation.
Four years later and a senior walk-on on the North Carolina men's basketball team, Van Hatchell still has some explaining to do.
"I have people coming up to me even now saying they never knew who my mom was," the good-natured Hatchell said and laughed.
"They will ask, 'Why didn't you tell me?' I just didn't bring it up, that's all. I would never tell anyone who my mom was just because I didn't want people to like me because of that or think I was here because of her."
Hatchell's mother, if you haven't guessed, is Sylvia Hatchell.
She's the coach of UNC's women's basketball team, the first and only coach to lead teams to national championships at the AIAW, NAIA and NCAA levels. Since arriving at UNC in 1986, Hatchell has directed the Tar Heels to one national title (1994), eight ACC titles and six 30-win seasons.
Hatchell's father, Sammy, is no coaching slouch either. Formerly the all-time winningest coach at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C., Sammy is currently the coach at Cresset Christian Academy in Chapel Hill, N.C., where Van, an only child, attended, played basketball and earned All-State honors under his pops.
"I am his mother and you'd expect a mother to say this, but Van has never given us one ounce of trouble," Sylvia said.
Aside from keeping the family tree wrapped in cellophane and in the attic, right?
"Whatever happens to him, he wants to do it on his own," Sylvia explained. "He wants to earn everything he gets, and that's great."
Van Hatchell is personable, polite, appreciative, smart and goal-oriented. He is living his dream, finally wearing a Carolina blue jersey -- varsity, that is -- while earning high marks in the Tar Heels' business program. And it's probably not surprising that he's pondering a career in coaching too, even if his mother initially suggested otherwise.
Name recognition aside, or lack thereof, Hatchell didn't take a conventional path to UNC.
Although he had several scholarship offers from small Division I schools, he instead opted to gain admission into UNC ("He must have taken the SAT eight or nine times," Sylvia said.), moved on out his own ("We gave him a lot of space and didn't get in touch with him unless we had to," mom explained.) and tried out for the team with the hope of one day rising to the varsity ranks ("You are not going to make it because your are my son, you are going to make it because you earned it," Sylvia said).
Mission accomplished, thrice.
"I love to show I can do things on my own," Van stressed.
UNC established the junior varsity program in 1972-73, when freshmen became eligible to play varsity. It is the only school in the ACC that fields a junior-varsity men's basketball team, allowing regular students a chance to practice and play in the Smith Center, and eventually earn a spot on varsity.
Hatchell, a 6-foot-4 guard, played two years on the Tar Heels' junior varsity team, was cut on the final day of varsity tryouts last year and was actually cut for 24 hours this year (70 players tried out) before coach Roy Williams called him into his office and explained his change of heart.
"I thought coach had called me in to explain why he had cut me, kind of like professional courtesy since he worked with mom, but then he told me his decision and I was ready to pass out," said Hatchell, who worked with a personal trainer, shot thousands of baskets and turned down a summer internship in Charlotte, N.C., in his year-long preparation for tryouts.
"I had no idea. I went from being completely done with basketball to being part of this storied program all within 24 hours. It has been an interesting ride and I am grateful for every part of it."
Mom and son shared a neat experience during the Tar Heels' 108-67 home exhibition victory over Barton on Nov. 5. That's when Van Hatchell scored his first varsity basketball, on a short jumper with three seconds remaining, drawing a thunderous ovation from the crowd of 14,259.
Sylvia Hatchell had arrived late for the game but made eye contact with her son as he sat on the bench. As the game's final minutes ticked down, Sylvia made her way down the stands toward the exit to beat the crowd. With two minutes remaining, Van was inserted into the game.
The score book could be a scrapbook.
"They threw him the ball in the closing seconds and everyone was hollering shoot, shoot, shoot and when it went in I just threw my hands up in the air, I was so happy," Sylvia said.
"It was only the day before when we were talking when he mentioned that he just wanted to get into the score book, he wanted to score a basket. And he was the first walk-on to score. What made it so fun was that all the workers there, everyone was high-fiving me as they walked by. I went back in the hallway and all the players were running by and Van was smiling ear-to-ear. And coach (Joe) Holladay looked at me as he went by and said, 'He's in the books, he's in the books.' That was so great because I know how hard he has worked."
Van Hatchell has appeared in three games for the Tar Heels (8-4), including Tuesday's 85-60 home victory over William & Mary. He converted one of two free throws for his first point in a regular season game. UNC closes its December schedule at Madison Square Garden in New York City against Rutgers on Dec. 28. Overall, Hatchell has missed his two lone field-goal attempst but he has a defensive rebound and an assist.
Van Hatchell likes the Tar Heels' approach this season, believing that winning is a mindset and mentality. He too has been impressed by the team's talented youth such as Harrison Barnes. When time permits, he watches the women's team and offers his critiques to mom. Dad and son also chat often.
In a way, the family name -- first and last -- has come full circle at UNC.
"Honestly, I don't feel like I deserve any of this," Van said. "But it's played out exactly how I wanted it to."
Mom, inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2004 and one of only four coaches in Division I history to reach the 800-win plateau, couldn't agree more.
"It just proves that hard work pays off," Sylvia said. "Van has loved every minute of it. It's a dream come true."