By Laurie Paolicelli
When North Carolina selected Courtney Banghart as the fourth head coach in women’s basketball program history, the University added another outstanding leader to its family of championship-winning head coaches. Banghart, honored by Fortune Magazine in 2015 as one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders, was announced as the Tar Heel head coach on April 30, 2019.
Wrote Fortune Magazine in its 2015 list of the 50 Greatest World Leaders, “Unsurprisingly, people like Tim Cook, Pope Francis and LeBron James are on it. But coming in at No. 43 is Princeton’s women’s basketball coach Courtney Banghart, who might be an unfamiliar name to some.”
For Courtney Banghart the Ivy League had long been home. She had four years as a star guard at Dartmouth, another 12 as coach of the Princeton women’s team, which she took to new heights by winning seven Ivy League titles, including a 30-0 regular season in 2014-15
In 2019, Banghart was at the top of the wish list of Bubba Cunningham, the Tar Heels’ athletic director, and she decided to make the leap from New Jersey to North Carolina. In addition to finding a great fit with the UNC program, Banghart has grown to love Chapel Hill and the community it provides for her three young children. The opportunity to live near her sister, a teacher who has lived in Chapel Hill for more than a decade, is just one more reason the move has been a hit.
Banghart has lived up to expectations. The 2021-22 North Carolina Tar Heels women’s basketball team finished the season 25-7 overall and 13-5 in ACC play, finishing in a three-way tie for third place. They earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, falling to top seed South Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen to end their season.
“Courtney Banghart has proven she knows how to lead students to wins both on and off the court,’’ Carolina Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham said. “She believes in developing strong character and a championship mentality, in recruiting and graduating players who want to serve their community, and in building relationships in and outside of her program.”
Her bio won’t mention that she bungee-jumped in Switzerland and hitchhiked in Alaska, or that she’s funny and warm and self-deprecating. Her Wikipedia page won’t tell you that she was too focused on her team’s upcoming game to meet President Obama, who came to watch Princeton play (and beat) Green Bay in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in March 2015. Instead of leaving her court-side post to greet the President during warm-ups, Banghart stayed with her team, wanting to demonstrate the kind of focus and determination it takes to be a winner, even when sacrifices need to be made.
“I learned that to be a successful leader, you have to do it your way. I have to be true to me, and therein lies my best chance to be successful. There are many touch points that equal success, and I’m driven for all of them at the same time.”
Says one of her practice players, Max Linke. “Working with the women’s team has been a highlight for me during my time at Carolina. Coach Banghart has been an inspiration. She is a true leader, and every time she speaks she grabs the attention of every person in the room. Also she clearly deeply cares about every single player and every single person on her staff. She makes sure that everyone she coaches gets better on the court and off the court every day. I’m looking forward to watching them kill it next season. Go Heels.”
Banghart is Vice President on the Board of Directors for the Women’s Basketball Coaches’ Association and on the NCAA Women’s Basketball Oversight Committee.
We asked Banghart a few questions, just to get to know her a little better.
What do you and your family do for fun in NC? What are some favorite Chapel Hill area activities?
There’s so much to do in Chapel Hill! We love picnics at the Bell Tower, followed by ice cream on Franklin Street. We love attending so many of the Tar Heel sporting events, as the quality of competition and the environment, together, are hard to beat.
What does a typical week look like for you and your athletes while in season?
Our weeks look different depending on the game schedule and the time of the year. Playing basketball at Carolina is an all-encompassing experience. The mobility work in the weight room, the extra skill work, the film sessions, the team practices, the recovery post-practice, and the road trips provide countless memories to share with teammates.
Are your kids considering Carolina?
My kids are just finishing first grade and kindergarten and Carolina is already their dream school! It is also the dream school for us as their parents, and we will do everything we can to help them earn the opportunity. As we all know, it’s not an easy place to get into, but we’re hopeful!
Banghart and Carolina are a match made in heaven – Blue Heaven.
Women’s Basketball season tickets will be on sale later this month. Single-game tickets will be available closer to the start of the season. For more information about purchasing tickets, visit: GoHeels.com/tickets
Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.