Hubert Davis comes back to coach at UNC
Dean Smith said he wasn’t good enough.
An assistant coach had to suggest that Hubert Davis had the talent to play basketball at North Carolina, paving the way for a scholarship offer to the Winston-Salem native.
That assistant coach was Roy Williams.
“He went to a number of my high school basketball and football games,” Davis said about the current head coach of the Tar Heels.
“Coach Smith didn’t believe that I was good enough to play here at North Carolina, and the one coach that believed that I could play was coach Williams.”
By the time Davis enrolled in the fall of 1988, Williams had accepted the head coaching position at Kansas. He never had the chance to coach Davis as a Tar Heel.
But nearly 25 years later, Williams had a different type of recruiting pitch for Davis.
In March, one of Williams’ assistants, Jerod Haase, took the head coaching job at the University of Alabama-Birmingham and opened up a hole in the UNC coaching staff.
“I didn’t enjoy going through the process of losing Jerod and didn’t enjoy going through the process of having to hire somebody,” Williams said in June at his annual summer press conference.
“I haven’t interviewed anybody in a long, long time. I can’t remember the last time I did interview anybody. Because anytime there’s been a change in my staff I’ve had one person in mind that I talked to and he said yes — and that’s what happened this time.”
In Davis’ mind, there was only one answer, but knew he had to clear it with a few people first.
He had always wanted to be a coach, and the weight of Williams’ offer overwhelmed him. On his drive home his eyes filled with tears.
“I came into my house and my wife was like, ‘What just happened!’” Davis said. “I told her sit down at the table and I told her what coach Williams asked me and she started crying and we were just drawn back, so surprised. We prayed about it and we felt like this is where Jesus wanted us to go.”
So on May 2, Davis, who had spent the last seven years as a college basketball analyst for ESPN, began his coaching career at the same school where he began his playing career.
As a player, Davis developed a reputation as a jumpshooter and still holds the highest career 3-point percentage in program history. He also holds the school record for most 3-pointers made in a single ACC game with eight in a contest against Florida State in his senior year. Six of them came in the second half.
That perimeter prowess helped the Tar Heels to two ACC Tournament Championships and back to the Final Four for the first time since 1982.
Davis said that Final Four team in 1991 was the best team he ever played on. Including himself, eight players from that team had careers in the NBA.
“Not only were we good, we were all best friends,” he said. “We had great chemistry, everybody knew their roles, everybody accepted their roles, and everyone saw the value in what the other person brought to the table. And I think that’s what made that team great.
“If our team resembles that this year, it’s going to be a very special year.”
But this year’s team doesn’t resemble that team much at all.
In 1991, Davis had three teammates — Eric Montross, Matt Wenstrom and Kevin Salvadori — that stood at least seven feet tall. The 2012-13 Tar Heels don’t have a player taller than six-foot-ten.
That’s no secret to this year’s team either.
“I think we’ll be a quick team, a more guard-oriented team,” junior guard Reggie Bullock said in June.
“We’re still going to go back to our basics and get the ball inside but we know that the guards are going to have to step up a lot this season.”
And who better to help those guards than one of the best shooters in North Carolina history?
“You know he’s a shooter, I’m a shooter so he tells me what I need to work on in my shot,” Bullock said. “He’s just been helping me a lot offensively with my basketball game.”
But Davis said he has more to offer than just some technical adjustments.
He learned keys to success in basketball from one of the most revered college coaches in the history of the game. Those include the right preparation, organization, communication and having the right mind set.
“I’m just going to talk to them about my experience,” Davis said. “I had a great conversation with Dexter (Strickland) two days ago. He’s the only senior on this team; I was the only senior on my team. So we had a great conversation about the importance of leadership, being the only senior, the responsibilities of a senior leader vocally, being an example.
“We were able to relate to that, together, at the same place 20 years later … I thought that was really cool.”
When this season starts, Davis will already be half a year into his career as an assistant coach. This summer, he said, Williams has put him up to a little bit of everything from recruiting to tracking classes of the athletes.
In addition to his duties on the bench with Williams, Davis will be assisting C.B. McGrath with the junior varsity team, giving him more time to reach his only goal for this year — to learn.
“The only thing on my mind is just trying to learn and trying to do my job to the best of my ability,” he said with a smile, “and enjoy myself.”
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