Ivory Latta is in her first season as an assistant coach at North Carolina.
Ivory Latta is in her first season as an assistant coach at North Carolina.
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Latta Continues Commitment To Basketball
Release: 03/12/2014

A few weeks back, North Carolina assistant coach Ivory Latta spent about 30 minutes with a Creative Sportswriting class from the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communications. GoHeels.com asked professor Tim Crothers to select one of the submissions to publish on the website.

By Kasey Fuscoe

She walked in with a bounce in her step - like her feet were landing on delicate sponges that would have pushed her into the air, if not for her heavy gait.

Beaming ear-to-ear with a genuine smile, she slid into the navy blue chair and placed her forearms on the interview table, looking up at a small crowd of anticipatory students.

Her swift steps and brisk entry masked a surprising physical feature - coming from an industry where the average height is 5'11", Ivory Latta is a mere 5'6".

Latta hasn't let her unusually small stature keep her from achieving international success in a sport known for height. The fiery former UNC point guard is candid and enthusiastic as she sits down for an interview.  

Last year, Latta would have been just a player, but this year she is approaching basketball from a different angle - not only as an athlete, but also a coach.

Last summer, Coach Sylvia Hatchell recruited Latta for a second time. Beginning this season, Latta took on the job as assistant coach for the Tar Heels, doubling up on a dose of her favorite sport.

Latta fondly recalled her best memories while on the team at UNC.

"The most satisfying moment in my whole career was winning my first ACC championship, because my freshman year we lost to them," Latta said, looking knowingly at the students. "You know who them is."

On March 8, 2004, UNC lost to Duke 63-47 in the ACC Tournament final. After the game, Hatchell made her team remain on their bench to watch the Blue Devils receive the trophy.

Latta looked solemn as she recited the promise she made that night to Hatchell: "Coach, as long as I'm here at the University of North Carolina, I will never lose another ACC Championship."

And she didn't.

By the end of her college career, Latta led the Tar Heels to three ACC Championships and back-to-back Final Fours. She was recognized as the 2006 player of the year and remains UNC's all-time leading scorer with 2,285 career points.

After graduating in 2007, Latta was drafted by the WNBA's Detroit Shock, traded to the Atlanta Dream, played for the Tulsa Shock and joined the Washington Mystics in 2012.

"The game of basketball - it's been great to me," said Latta. "I just try to go out there and just play with a lot of heart and passion and just have fun with it."

Latta's time as a WNBA player for the last seven years makes it easy to understand the girls she now coaches. Latta works closely with Andrew Calder, the Associate Head Coach for the Tar Heels. 

"I can relate to what they're going through," Latta said. "I told Coach one day: 'Hey man, I think they need a break.' He said, 'You think?'"

"I said yes, because I'm tired," Latta laughed.

Diamond DeShields, a freshman on the UNC team, is performing in ways that mimic Latta's achievements at Carolina. DeShields is breaking many of Latta's freshman records - most recently on Feb.16, when DeShields scored 38 points in a 92-89 win over NC State.

Latta's optimism is evident as she recounted some recent advice to DeShields after the freshman missed a crucial 3-pointer at the end of the Feb. 23 game against Virginia Tech.

"Keep shooting," Latta said. "You're a great player. You're going to have plenty of opportunities to win games for this team. Don't get down. Get in the gym. Practice that same shot over and over because you're going to get that same opportunity."

Latta lit up with excitement as she began to talk about DeShields and how she feels about the young athlete's success.

"I am beyond happy," Latta said. "I encourage it. Break every record. Be great here... Do something that I didn't do."

There seems to be little Latta didn't accomplish while playing for the Tar Heels - but now she can add coaching to her contribution. While giving back to her alma mater, Latta is also giving back to the woman who coached her to the WNBA.

Coach Hatchell was diagnosed with leukemia in October, raising the expectations of Latta's role with the team.

"When I was here, she did so much for me," Latta said, as a serious tone overtook her usual chipper demeanor.

"I couldn't get that from any other coach... I have to step up big and whatever she wants me to do - I'm going to do it." 

As for Latta's personal goals, she is "just taking it day by day."

"Everybody that I talk to right now says, 'You're going to make a great head coach,'" Latta said. "Whatever God has for me, then that's what I'm going to do."

Latta's contentment with the uncertainty of her future reflects her philosophy about basketball.

"Let the game come to you," she said. "When you be good to the game, the game will be good to you."

Right now, the game is treating Latta pretty well. In the last few years during her WNBA off-seasons, Latta traveled to Turkey and Israel to play basketball. 

"I was chasing money, how about that?" Latta laughed.

True to her entertaining, animated nature, Latta leaned forward - well aware of the candid quote she just handed her interviewers.

With a sparkle in her eye and bright smile lighting up her face, Latta added, "I told y'all I was going to make this fun."

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