Hall Pass Spotlight:
NCSHOF MEMBER (Class of 2015)
By HELEN ROSS
The tweet Charlotte Smith posted recently couldn’t have been more apropos to the day. It read “2-23-23 = 2 people wore #23 at UNC. Do you know who they are?”
Fans of North Carolina basketball almost certainly do.
One was her idol, Michael Jordan, the basketball legend who hit the game-winner in the Tar Heels’ 1982 NCAA title game against Georgetown. As a young girl growing up in Shelby, N.C., Smith wanted to “be like Mike” even though her uncle is N.C. State’s great David Thompson and Dereck Whittenburg, who played on the Wolfpack’s 1983 title team, is her cousin.
So, when the talented 6-footer enrolled at North Carolina, of course she had to wear No. 23, too. And after an All-America career for the Tar Heels, which saw her hit the buzzer-beater to lift the Tar Heels to a 60-59 victory over Louisiana Tech for the 1994 NCAA crown, her jersey was retired, just like Mike’s was. She also joined him – and her uncle — in the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.
In 2021, Smith told Dave Lohse, UNC’s retired associate sports communication director, that the road to the Heels’ first NCAA women’s basketball title began with two simple words.
“After practice every day, Coach Hatchell gave us words of affirmation and asked us to make a commitment to be national championship caliber good,” Smith said in the article on goheels.com. “We would huddle as players post practice and chant ‘National Champions’ to end that huddle every single day.”
Things looked bleak for the Tar Heels, though, when they got the jump ball trailing Louisiana Tech by 2 and just 0.7 seconds on the clock. UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell, another North Carolina Sports Hall of Famer, first called for a lob to Sylvia Crawley. When the Lady Techsters appeared to have the play covered, UNC called another time out and this time the Heels – and Smith – were going for the win.
In November 2022, Smith told Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer in his “Legends of the Game” podcast that’s when the fear set in.
“I’m wondering, ‘Do I have what it takes for this big moment?’” Smith said. “I was nervous. I literally forgot the play. Fortunately, Sylvia Crawley, you know, in that moment said: ‘They’re setting this diagonal screen for you.’ Everybody assumed that we were going for the two-point play. I was all by myself behind the three-point line, Stephanie Lawrence threw an amazing pass and all I can remember is just thinking, ‘Dear God, let this shot go in.’ The rest is history.”
The shot was Smith’s first three-pointer of the season. Dr. Beth Miller, who oversaw the women’s basketball program in 1994, told goheels.com that the shot “remains one of the greatest game-winners in college sports history.
“It all came together: the right person making the right play at the perfect time, lifting our Tar Heels to greatness and helping to elevate women’s sports on a national stage. Her shot truly changed the trajectory of women’s basketball.”
Smith finished her career at UNC with a litany of honors: Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year in 1992 and All-ACC and ACC Tournament MVP as a junior and senior, for starters. She was also the MVP of the NCAA tournament in 1994 (grabbing a phenomenal 23 rebounds in the title game) and named an All-American by Kodak, The Associated Press and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.
Smith, who was selected to the ACC’s 50th Anniversary Team, also became the first woman to dunk a basketball in competition during her senior year.
“I knew if I ever got a breakaway, I was going to give it a shot,” Smith told Fowler. “And so it was a clean steal and an opportunity in the beginning of the game where my legs were fresh. It wasn’t the most powerful slam dunk that I ever had, but I got it in.”
Smith also represented the U.S. internationally, most notably winning a gold medal and MVP honors in the 1996 Jones Cup. She also played in the 1995 World University Games and was a member of the South Team in the 1993 U.S. Olympic Festival.
Smith went on to play professionally for a year in Italy before being selected by the Colorado Xplosion in the 1996 American Basketball League draft. Three years later, she was picked by the Charlotte Sting in the WNBA draft and played six seasons in the Queen City. She also had one-year stints with Washington Mystics and Indiana Fever.
Since she quit playing, Smith has become an accomplished coach. She was an assistant with several USA Basketball teams and spent nine seasons as an assistant at her alma mater.
Smith is now in her 12th season as the head coach at Elon University, where she is the winningest coach in Phoenix history. In 2016-17, Smith saw her vision of a championship come to fruition with Elon capturing the CAA regular season and tournament titles, the first Division I championships for the program, and then won the CAA tournament title again the following season.
Charlotte Smith photos courtesy Elon Athletic Communications/Troy L. Sayles (portrait); CAA Photos/Tim Cowie.
Our thanks to Elon for its assistance.
LEGENDARY WOMEN’S HOOP COACHES ENSHRINED IN HALL
Charlotte Smith has already become Elon University’s all-time winningest women’s basketball coach in just 12 seasons at the helm there, but she joins several other outstanding women’s coaches who are enshrined in the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.
In fact, Charlotte’s college coach at North Carolina, Sylvia Hatchell, was a 2019 inductee into the Hall and compiled a stellar coaching record, first at Francis Marion College and then at North Carolina. A native of Gastonia and a Carson-Newman graduate, she was just the third women’s basketball coach in NCAA Division I to go over the 1,000-victory mark and she finished her career with an amazing slate of 1023-405.
Another interesting sidelight is that Hatchell was an assistant coach for the 1988 U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team which won the gold medal at the Games in Seoul, Korea. The head coach? Another NCSHOF member, the legendary Kay Yow.
Yow, a native of Gibsonville and a graduate of East Carolina, has a kinship with Smith in terms of career, as Yow was also the head coach at Elon from 1971 to ‘75. However, she is better known for her lengthy and successful career at North Carolina State.
She was actually the first full-time women’s college coach in the state of North Carolina, when Yow was hired to be the volleyball, women’s basketball and slow-pitch softball coach at State.
The 1989 NCSHOF inductee rolled up a career record of 737-344 in basketball, with 680 of those at the helm at N.C. State.
These coaches are among many of the great names celebrated in the NCSHOF.