Of course, that season fell just short of the national title fans were hoping for, but Latta will return for her senior year on a mission -- and with an opportunity to add to her already impressive list of accomplishments.
For example, Latta ranks among the ACC’s all-time leaders in career three-pointers (sixth), free throw percentage (fifth), and three-point percentage (15th). And she’s among UNC’s leaders in three-pointers (second), assists (seventh), and scoring (13th). She was voted the 2006 ACC Player of the Year — the first UNC player to win it since 1998 — and was named the ACC Tournament MVP after UNC won its second straight ACC title.
Those weren’t Latta’s only honors. She was the National Player of the Year for ESPN and others. She was the runner-up for the AP Player of the Year, which went to Seimone Augustus. She was named the Nancy Lieberman Award winner for being the top point guard in the country, and was a consensus All-American — UNC’s first since Tracy Reid in 1998.
Latta averaged 18.4 ppg, 8.2 apg, 41.6% from three-point distance and 46.1% overall in 31.4 minutes per contest last season. And she led the Tar Heels to their first Final Four appearance since 1994. She is also the likely candidate to be the first overall pick in the 2007 WNBA Draft.
FCP: You came out of high school with a reputation as a great scorer, but now your role includes running the team and making sure others get their shots too. Has that been a difficult adjustment?
Ivory Latta: Absolutely not. It’s not a problem -- I’m a team player. My main goal is get everybody involved and try to make everybody out there happy. As a point guard, I have to make sure everybody is on the right page. I have great players around me who can score, so I’m pretty much happy at all times.
FCP: Is it hard to determine when to look for your own shots first, as opposed to running the offense and getting others their shots?
IL: Absolutely not. I know coach is going to call a couple of set players for me out of a time out, and they tell me to look for my shots on the (fast) break and stuff like that. But my main goal is to get my teammates involved and get them the ball at the right place, so they could get a pretty good start.
FCP: As one of the smallest guards in the ACC, did you find that most opponents would try to test you physically?
IL: Absolutely. They still do to this day. They look at my height and say, ‘We could post her up or beat her.’ But height doesn’t really matter, as long as you got the heart to go out there to play with a lot of passion. That’s the only thing that matters. I have an advantage, too, with my quickness — that’s something I use to get around them and beat them.
FCP: North Carolina has one of the best woman’s programs in the country, and you are exciting and fun to watch — yet, the student body doesn’t get as involved as they do at other campuses or for the legendary men's program. Why do you think that is?
IL: I really don’t know. Like you said, we’re exciting and fun to watch. I’m surprised they don’t like to come to the games like that. Our men’s team, they’re great. They bring in a lot of fans, and I wish we could, too. I really don’t know -- we don’t let that bother us. We just go out there and do what we have to do to get better and get the win.
FCP: Do you get the feeling that you’ll start to draw bigger crowds this upcoming season with a top-five team?
IL: Absolutely. I believe we can, with the competition we’re (going to be) playing as far as Tennessee and Connecticut. Those are big games, and they’re going to be nationally televised. We’re going to have bigger crowds than we’ve had.
FCP: Talk a little about the ACC. People have said that the SEC is the toughest league, or sometimes the Big 12, but after last season, can anybody doubt that the ACC is the best woman’s basketball league in the college ranks?
IL: By far, the ACC is the best woman’s league. The competition that came through (the ACC) and the competition that’s coming in (the ACC), we’re the best league out there. The ACC produces great players — day in and day out — and has a lot of players in the WNBA. By far, it’s the best league out there.
FCP: What is it like to have to play good teams almost every single night in your own conference?
IL: It feels good. We’re very good as a whole (conference). We love to play the other teams, just like they love to play us. We love to compete on a high level. That’s the way we practice, so we try to play the same way we practice. It’s great. Personally, I love it. That’s the great thing about the ACC. There’s probably no weak teams, so you have to be ready to play every single night.
FCP: Obviously, only one team can win the NCAA title each year, so lots of teams are disappointed at the end of the season — but the Tar Heels were going into the tournament as the favorites to win it all. How does coming so close but not winning it all inspire you and your teammates for this season?
IL: We’re determined. We’re a very determined team. We fell short last year, but coming into this season, I know we’re very confident in our game and in each other. I know the coaches will do the right thing to get us back to the Final Four, so we’re going to come in there with a lot of passion. Sometimes I think we have a chip on our shoulders. That’s perfectly fine with me as long as everybody stays focused. We’ll have a great season.
FCP: Do you feel your team is on a mission to win a championship — as the men were in 2005, when nobody thought that Roy Williams was ever going to win it all at North Carolina?
IL: Absolutely. We’re definitely on a mission. We fell short. But great things will happen to us this year, as long as we stay focused, positive and do what we have to do. We’re on a mission to win the national championship this year.
FCP: Was it tough seeing one of your main rivals, Maryland, winning it all against another one of your rivals, Duke?
IL: To be honest, I pretty much didn’t watch that game. It would have been tough to watch (it) -- but the ACC is a very tough conference. And for another team from the conference, besides us, to win it all was good. We’re going to go out and be ready to play them (Maryland) this year. And they’re going to do the same with us. But everybody’s coming after them, just like they’re coming after us. They’re the national champs, so it’s going to be a great game.
FCP: Are you still as fiery as you were when you were a freshman?
IL: Absolutely. That’s how I’ve always played the game of basketball. I love it so much. I’m always fired up to play anybody. It doesn’t matter who we’re facing, I’m always fired up.
FCP: You’ve always been an emotional player. Do you feel like you will calm down a little bit as you get older?
IL: I probably will, but right now, I’m in college, and I’m really enjoying myself. I’m going to go out there and play off my emotions and things like that. I don’t know where I’ll be when I’ll lose that.
FCP: There has been talk you are likely to be the first overall pick in the 2007 WNBA draft. What would that mean to you? Have you thought about that yet?
IL: It’s pretty hard not to think about it — people tell you about it on campus and things like that. I really can’t concentrate on that right now. It would be a great feeling and an honor to come from a small town (McConnells SC) to be the (top) pick, and for the people around me that I do to make me better, as well. It’ll be great. I’ll be excited. I’m still smiling about it. And I can do is just take it one day at a time.
FCP: There are a lot of small guards out there who look up to players like you and former college point guard Temeka Johnson as inspirations. What advice would you give to those 5-4, 5-5, and 5-6 girls who want to play in college and think they can’t because of their height?
IL: I would definitely tell them that height doesn’t matter. As long as you got the heart and the passion and the love for the game, just go out there and do what you can do. For shorter players, we use our quickness to our advantage, just like tall players use their height to their advantage. Smaller players can get the job done, just like the big players. I would just tell them to stay focused and stay positive because their time will come.