Daveona Hatchell never forgot how she was engulfed in love.
In the back of her mind, it was another reason why she pushed so hard, gave so much of herself to the North Myrtle Beach girls basketball program. And now she wants to deliver a thank you to everyone involved.
Three-plus years after Hatchell’s home burned down — prompting a wave of support from teammates she was just starting to know — the Chiefs’ all-state senior would like nothing more than to hoist the Class 4A state championship trophy on Thursday afternoon.
“It’s been real fun,” Hatchell said in advance of the title game appearance against Westside at USC-Aiken. “It's a great way to go out. It’s been amazing.”
The run of the last few weeks — a region tournament championship, upsetting four-time defending champ North Augusta, Saturday’s lower state finals win over Darlington — is the perfect lead up to the conclusion of a varsity career that got off to such a painful start.
On New Year’s Eve rolling into January of 2018, mere games after the start of Hatchell’s freshman season, what was later attributed to faulty wiring caused a fire that left Hatchell, her mother and sister without all of their possessions or a place to live.
By the time the sun set on that Sunday, her coaches and teammates had already spearheaded a campaign that replaced clothing, personal hygiene products and, ultimately, a new home. A GoFundMe account raised nearly $2,000. Teen Angels also got involved. In a matter of days, the family was on the road to recovery.
But there was something else happening behind the scenes as well.
The relationships between players grew, as the talks of basketball were often dwarfed by those of bigger meaning. And, still surprisingly enough to now-fourth-year head coach Brooke Smith, Hatchell never missed a beat.
“She showed up to practice the next day and said ‘I want to be here. I want to be here.’ She wouldn’t take no for an answer,” Smith said. “That put her into a character level that so few would be able to match. Then, when you saw the team rally around her, that was amazing. That was the first time for me where I saw what coaching basketball was all about.”
Smith, who at the time was just months into her first varsity head coaching job, also started to see the development of a player who had previously played on Smith’s junior varsity Chiefs’ squad. Hatchell soaked up everything she could from the likes of Aquera Johnson, Jenna Berger and Jordan Berger, the three players who dominated the headlines the last three years.
Hatchell never complained about opportunities; instead, she’d morph into all these different roles to make herself invaluable and continued to produce.
Over her five seasons on the varsity squad, she’s scored 1,032 points and grabbed 982 rebounds. And while the program doesn’t have her assists and steals figures from her first two seasons, she’s almost assuredly topped the 200 mark in both categories for her career, too.
This year, she’s averaged 12 points. 9.9 rebounds, 2.6 steals and 1.8 assists per game. Needless to say, her game can be described as diverse. Even though she attacks the basket and rebounds like a front-court player, she’s also never lost touch with her point guard skills. In late-game situations against North Augusta and Darlington, it was the forward bringing the ball up the floor.
“We always knew she could handle the ball, even when she was on JV as a seventh grader,” Smith said. “We get into these situations where we need a ball handler, and we can just give her the ball.”
It’s a small bit of proof of the level of trust and security that started to blossom more than three years ago.
The team doesn’t bring up the events of that New Year’s Eve often, although there was a discussion last year about how thankful everyone was that Hatchell elected to go with her mom to church that morning instead of stay in bed. It was a fateful decision that limited the scope of a tragedy that could have been much, much worse.
Instead, when they returned from service, the damage was manageable — especially with some close friends ready to help.
“I was pretty heartbroken, to see my mother crying, my sister crying. I’m not very emotional. I like to be the strong person in the family,” Hatchell said. “But I needed something to get my mind off it. Being around my teammates brought me some joy.
“[The team] was big in supporting me. They made me feel like a family.”