CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Sylvia Hatchell is fighting to get back to her North Carolina women's basketball program as quickly as possible.
The recently inducted Naismith Hall of Fame coach has been away from sideline duties since October while receiving treatment for leukemia. She spent a month in the hospital for the first round of chemotherapy with more ahead as she holds out hope of getting back by conference tournament time.
"You don't realize, especially after all this time, how much something means to you until you don't have it," Hatchell said in an interview with The Associated Press.
"It was like a tsunami hit me and all of a sudden it's taken away. But that's my motivation, to get back out there."
Hatchell, 61, said she feels great and even attended Saturday's win against High Point, the first time she watched her No. 10 Tar Heels play in person this year.
She returns to the hospital Friday for her next five-day round of chemotherapy, the second of at least three and maybe four "consolidation" sessions to complete her treatment. Her chances of returning this year depending largely on how her immune system recovers each time.
Dr. Pete Voorhees, the oncologist overseeing her treatment at UNC's Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, said last month physicians were "extremely pleased" with her progress.
"I haven't had one test come back and knock me down, so the only thing I've got against me is my age," she said with a laugh.
Hatchell, in her 28th season at UNC, has more than 900 career victories, eight Atlantic Coast Conference tournament titles, three Final Fours and the 1994 NCAA championship. With longtime assistant Andrew Calder leading UNC on the sideline, Hatchell has remained involved by reviewing practice and game video, conferring with her staff and meeting with her players.
This is the first time she's missed games since missing two in January 1989 due to the birth of her son, Van.
"Coach Hatchell still makes the decisions," said Ivory Latta, UNC's career scoring leader and a first-year assistant coach. "She definitely still calls the shots. We still play the way she wants us to play."
While she misses her team, Hatchell said she's blessed because her illness was caught early. She works to stay positive as she would coach her players to do and leans on her faith.
"I've had moments," she said. "The biggest thing is in the mornings when I open my eyes, sometimes I'll close my eyes again like, 'Wake up, this is a bad dream.'"