Monday, March 19, 2007

Tracey Williams-Johnson plays a key role for the Tar Heels

As printed in the Chapel Hill Herald on Saturday, March 17th:

The UNC women's basketball team may be kicking off the NCAA tournament this weekend, but assistant coach Tracey Williams-Johnson has spent much of the last few weeks away from Chapel Hill.

Williams-Johnson is far from AWOL though. Rather as the team's recruiting coordinator, she is putting in the hard work necessary to ensure that future Carolina teams are just as good as this year's likely Final Four-bound program.

She spent last March 7, her birthday, in Atlanta recruiting at the Georgia high school basketball championships. March 9, she flew with head coach Sylvia Hatchell to watch the state finals in Arkansas, leaving at 5 and arriving back in North Carolina around 2:30 AM. There's no rest for the weary though, as Williams-Johnson was back up and at the Dean Dome early the next morning for our state championships.

Williams-Johnson has had a tremendous amount of success with recruiting during her eight years in the Carolina basketball program, helping to land such stars as Ivory Latta, Erlana Larkins and Camille Little.

A humble person though, she gives much of the credit to Hatchell, for whom she has a tremendous amount of respect. The pair have been friends since Hatchell's Frances Marion University teams faced off against the UNC-Pembroke teams Williams-Johnson played for in college.

I figured that considering the vital role Williams-Johnson has played during this period of great accomplishment in the UNC program, she might be top level head coaching material for some other program. Her response? “No interest at all. I love it here. There's no one I'd rather be working with than Coach Hatchell and the other wonderful people in this program.”

Williams-Johnson joked that it can actually be a lot harder to convince people to leave the program than to join it! Her newly hired assistant is former player Jessica Sell, who played a key role as a starter on last year's Final Four team. Sell's helping out with recruiting and is interested in becoming a coach some day herself further down the line. She says “there's no better person to learn from than coach Williams-Johnson.”

Sell said that in her own recruitment, one of the things that came across was how much like a family the UNC program was. Williams-Johnson agrees, saying that “the relationships we form here last a lifetime and that the love and respect we have for each other is a big part of our success.”

Williams-Johnson brought an interesting background to the Carolina program, working in administration for both the U.S. national team and for the short-lived women's professional American Basketball League. Although the ABL had a higher quality of play than the WNBA during its year of existence, the lack of institutional backing made it difficult to thrive.

From that background working in professional women's basketball, she thinks Ivory Latta will be good for the WNBA.

“She's a marketing dream. She has so much energy and never backs down and when young girls see that, it makes them want to be a part of this. Camille Little with her versatility and capability to be a threat both offensively and defensively inside and out will also be a tremendous asset to the WNBA.”

In those two positions she did a great job of promoting in general the game of women's basketball, but when the ABL folded she knew where she wanted to be. “Coach Hatchell and I competed against each other, worked as camp counselors at Campbell together, and worked together in the US national program. I knew she was the kind of person I wanted to work with.”

Williams-Johnson is one of the friendliest and kind-hearted people you could ever meet and folks around the ACC know it. For instance, when Miami came to play Carolina last month they had a snafu with their equipment. Their coaches knew that she was the person with the compassion and organization to bail them out with the problem, and she did.

With the duel roles of overseeing the recruitment of future teams while continuing to assist with the coaching of this one, Williams-Johnson doesn't have much time for much else but dotes on her parents in Sampson County as well as her husband.

Hatchell and the players get most of the attention for the team's performance, and they absolutely deserve it. Williams-Johnson says “our success and the relationships we have are all the recognition I deserve.”

Her modesty is appreciated, but coach Williams-Johnson deserves a lot of credit for the great success the team has had over the last few years. Her nature doubtless helps to show parents and potential student athletes what kind of a program they'll be joining at UNC and as her assistant Jessica Sell says, “she has a great passion and drive to win.”

The Carolina program has been doing a lot of that winning during coach Williams-Johnson's time in the program, and as they embark on another potential national championship run this weekend, they're real lucky to have her.

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