On June 19, Allisha Gray, who led the Tar Heels with 15.8 points per game during her sophomore campaign, announced that she was transferring to South Carolina.
Mere hours after Gray said she would be a Gamecock, Stephanie Mavunga, the Tar Heels’ All-ACC center, was given a release to speak to other programs about transferring.
If Mavunga decides to transfer, she would be the fourth and final player from UNC’s No. 1 ranked class of 2013 to do so, following in the footsteps of Diamond DeShields, Jessica Washington and Gray.
Charlie Tuggle, a professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said Gray said that she feared the consequences of having her name associated with UNC basketball in a meeting with himself and Coach Sylvia Hatchell, but the reason for the departure of the other players is something that has caused a stir among fans.
After Mavunga’s release, Hatchell said in a statement that discussion about the future of the program was premature.
“There has been a lot of speculation surrounding our program in recent weeks, and that’s all that it is — speculation,” Hatchell said.
Despite Hatchell’s statement, several pundits have pointed to the NCAA investigation and the Notice of Allegations as the main culprits for why players have decided to leave the program.
“This is the period you go through … where (the NCAA) holds a dagger over your head,” said Brian Barbour, who has blogged about UNC athletics for over nine years. “People, in a reaction to what that dagger might bring, do things like transfer or don’t commit to the school in general. And this is massive, because it’s actual penalties before you get to the penalty phase.”
Jacqueline Koss, who says she has been a colleague of Hatchell’s for over 40 years, said that UNC’s administration, perhaps with pressure from players’ parents, may have coerced Hatchell into granting the releases.
“Sylvia is far, far too successful and too intelligent to have wanted to allow that to happen,” she said.
Dan Bruton, a former assistant women’s basketball coach at San Diego Mesa College and a sports marketing professor at the University of San Diego, said he wouldn’t be surprised if other players decided to leave.
“A year ago, the upside of that team looked great, you know — young players, really good players, more players coming in — and now … it’s certainly not what those girls signed up for,” he said.
Barbour said the effects on the program’s future recruiting classes could be alarming.
“As for what goes on in the class of 2017, the class of 2018, yeah I think those classes are pretty well toast,” he said. “Hatchell can tell recruits, she can say that she’s going to be there, but we have no way of knowing what’s going to happen to her.”