The phone call came late on the afternoon of Jan. 5, 2000. North Carolina women's basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell was about to leave her office to board the team bus for a trip to play Virginia the following night. On the other end of the line was Nikki Teasley, the Tar Heels' flamboyant 6-foot junior point guard. Teasley, a former high school player of the year who had been a preseason Naismith Award candidate, had the transcendent skills to put an excellent North Carolina team in her slipstream and pull it deep into the postseason. Yet on this winter afternoon something was very wrong.
"I don't want to go to Virginia," Teasley told Hatchell.
"What's wrong?" Hatchell asked.
"I just don't want to go."
"Come over here. Let's talk about it."
Within a half hour Teasley was sitting on the soft powder-blue couch in Hatchell's Carmichael Auditorium office. Her face betrayed a terrible anguish; her greenish-brown eyes were blank with sleeplessness and fear. "I don't want to be Nikki Teasley anymore," she said. "I don't like who I am."
The words sent a chill through Hatchell, who had been a coach for 25 years, the previous 14 at Chapel Hill. "The sounds were coming out of Nikki's body, but it wasn't Nikki," recalls Hatchell. "She was really struggling."
During her three seasons at Carolina, Teasley had been at times a dominant player and at other times average. Her personality would change abruptly from sweet and joyful to deeply withdrawn. Same in the classroom: up and down. Yet however down she got, she always surfaced and moved forward. Not this time. "I'm listening to Nikki," says Hatchell, "and a big red flag goes up."
The more the two of them talked, the redder the flag became. The message recurred again and again: I just don't want to be Nikki Teasley anymore.
Teasley is now a fifth-year senior. She missed seven games that winter of 2000 with what her psychologist describes as symptoms of depression and anxiety, and then sat out the entire 2000-01 season, taking a long break from the pressures that had triggered her condition. She has therapy sessions twice a week and takes the antianxiety medication Paxil. She sees life through calmer eyes—"I'm getting help, and I'm making things happen for myself," she says—and her game has never been better. Best of all, she doesn't have to be Nikki Teasley anymore, at least not in the way she was.