If you find yourself in McConnells, S.C., don't be surprised if you come across someone wearing a hat or a T-shirt bearing the slogan latta-tude, a tribute to the most famous citizen in the tiny town of 312: North Carolina junior point guard Ivory Latta, whose attitude is to always "go out there with a lot of funk--and have fun," she says.
Few players are having more fun this season. At week's end Latta had led No. 3 North Carolina to an 18-0 mark, tying the best start in school history. She was the Tar Heels' top scorer (17.3 points per game) and assists leader (5.5) and was tied for second in the ACC in threes (47).
The alltime leading scorer, boy or girl, in South Carolina history (with 4,319 career points), Latta developed her moves playing with and against the town's best players on the court her father, Charles, built adjacent to their house. "I was the only girl out there," she says. "I wasn't intimidated, but I intimidated a lot of guys. They would try to post me up, but I'd come back down and score on them."
It's that kind of moxie that has fired up the Heels. Their game plan--to fast-break and push the tempo--is built around Latta's all-out, baseline-to-baseline style. "I compare her to Allen Iverson," says Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, who watched Latta, generously listed at 5'6", torch his team for 21 points in a 77-54 North Carolina win on Dec. 5. "She can run and pass; she can handle and shoot. Size to that kid is irrelevant. I don't know that I've seen a better guard this year."
The Iverson analogy is apt because Latta patterns her game after the Sixers star's. "Height doesn't really matter," says Latta. "It's how big your heart is."
Her personality is just as robust. "Seeing Latta go out there, acting up, throwing her hands up in the air, just makes us want to play," says N.C. State guard Monica Pope. Latta says that her demonstrativeness is merely an extension of her love for the game, not showboating. "I'm not going to change my style," she says. "People don't want to come and see a boring game. I make sure everybody is ready."
RICHARD C. LEWIS/WIREIMAGE.COM (LATTA)
¬†ANOTHER ANSWER With her blow-by speed, a la AI, Latta has energized the Tar Heels.