Posted: Thursday February 2, 2006 5:13PM; Updated: Monday February 6, 2006 6:21PM
Latta and Iverson have never met. ("I love that guy," she says. "If I met him, I'd probably pass out.") But she certainly sounds like Iverson when talking about the constitution of a great player. "You got Lisa Leslie and Sheryl Swoops and people like that," says Latta. "Then when people see a little guard, they're like, 'Wow, little people can do it too.' I'm here to show everybody that height doesn't really matter. It's how big your heart is."
To say Latta is demonstrative on the court is to say Iverson is mildly interested in body art. She throws her body all over the court, and has a knack of drawing the ire of opposing fans. Latta was booed every time she touched the ball in a 65-53 win over N.C. State on Jan. 15. When she looked up, she saw signs that read: "A LATTA NOTHING." But she never wavered.
Last summer Latta was one of the final cuts for the 2005 USA World University Games. The cut stung, but it fueled motivation for this season. She spent August shooting 500 jump shots and 100 free throws three days a week, with the goal of hitting 50 percent or more from each spot on the floor.
"I thought I did well enough to make the team," says Latta. "I really enjoyed playing with [LSU's] Seimone Augustus and [Rutgers'] Cappie Pondexter. It hurt a little bit [to get cut]. But I came back and worked hard. My goal throughout my college career is to improve every single year. So far I think that's happened."
Latta talks like she plays: fast. Her voice goes up a couple of octaves when she gets excited, which is often. While Latta's goal is to play in the WNBA, she ultimately wants to work with children and open up a facility for kids in her hometown of McConnells, S.C. Chenna Latta says she and her husband, Charles, named their daughter Ivory because Charles looked at it as a name of purity. (In a sweet bit of Tar Heel irony, Latta's dad works for Duke Power).
Latta was hospitalized often for asthma during the first 13 months of her life, but says she simply grew out of it. (She has an inhaler, but says she has never experienced problems on the court in college.) When Ivory was 11, Charles built a full-length court adjacent to the house. On Sundays, after the the family of four boys and three girls returned from church, the best basketball players from all the nearby towns would come and play on the court. Latta was the only girl there and she says those games helped her develop a fearlessness in the lane.
Latta never forgets about these roots, as her sneakers may as well be a genealogy chart: She inscribed the names of her mother and two sisters on her left sneaker and father and four brothers on her right. Her size 6 1/2 Nikes also include the names of her grandparents and a nephew, as well as a Sharpee shout-out to Iverson.
Latta is the all-time leading scorer (boys or girls) in South Carolina history, with 4,319 career points. And in honor of her athletic endeavors, the town of McConnells has four welcome signs that read: "Home of Ivory Latta." If you're ever in McConnells, which is about 2 1/2 hours from Chapel Hill, you're also likely to run into one of its 312 citizens wearing a T-shirt or hat with the phrase LATTA-TUDE on it.
Hatchell, who coached North Carolina to the 1994 NCAA title behind a freshman point guard named Marion Jones (yeah, that Marion Jones), says she used to call Latta "LG" for Little General. Then she switched to "I."
"What do I call her now?" Hatchell says. "I just call her the best point guard in America."