There are 65 Power Five college basketball programs in the NCAA. Only one of them, however, has a JV basketball team. That one school is UNC.
The reason for the JV team still existing is former North Carolina men’s basketball coach Dean Smith. He believed that every student deserves a chance to try out for the basketball team, so he kept the JV team in tact after the majority of colleges disbanded theirs.
The North Carolina JV basketball team honored Smith on Thursday night with a 75-61 win over Fork Union Military Academy, in a tribute game at Carmichael Arena.
The Tar Heels struggled to score early on. They did not score their first point until the 16:28 mark in the first half, and that was only a free throw. The scoring would pick up, however, as UNC went into halftime tied with FUMA, 34-34.
North Carolina would take a two point lead early in the second half, and it extended that lead to 13 with an 11-0 run. The lead would be cut a little by Fork Union, but the Tar Heels grew their lead to 14 by the time the game ended.
Sophomore Devin Dukes led the Tar Heels in scoring. He recorded a career-high 25 points that was punctuated by a powerful dunk late in the game.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” Dukes said. “Coach just really gets on us about giving everything to the team. We’re really focused on team rather than self, so tonight was my night to score. But it could be anyone’s any night.”
Two other North Carolina players also scored double digit points. Sophomore Robbie O’Han put up 11 points, while junior Brooks Palmer added 13 points.
Although scoring was important for the Tar Heels, defense won them the game. KeShawn Curry is a shooting guard for Fork Union who committed to play at Virginia Commonwealth. He certainly imposed a difficult matchup for UNC, but North Carolina was able to hold him to three points on 1-10 shooting.
“He was one of the keys,” Dukes said. “So we knew get out on him as much as possible and try to get hands in his face. If you run enough bodies at somebody, you can throw them off guard.”
Head coach Hubert Davis attributed his team's defensive effort to its hard work. In fact, the Tar Heels were more focused on playing team defense than locking down one guy.
“These kids have been terrific,” Davis said. “ They want to do things the right way, and they play hard. And there are some times when there are lapses, but overall this probably the hardest working team that I’ve ever been around. They’ve done so well this year at both ends of the floor, and I don’t think it was about stopping one person.”
UNC’s defense wasn’t the only thing notable about this game. Thursday’s game was played in honor of Dean Smith, and it was played in Carmichael Arena, away from North Carolina’s usual home at the Smith Center.
“Carmichael is amazing," Dukes said. "It gets so much louder than the Dean Dome. So nice to be in a historic place. M.J. played here. It’s amazing, so we’re definitely blessed.”
Davis agreed that Carmichael is a great environment, and he even hopes that the varsity team will play a game there in the future.
“I’ve been begging Coach Williams to play one non-conference and one conference game here,” Davis said. “I think this would be the best home court advantage in the ACC. Not even close. Period. The end.”
While this game may have been played in a historic venue, it meant a lot more the JV team than just that. It meant going back to its roots.
“Coach Smith gave me an opportunity to come here and play basketball,” Davis said. “But it was more than that. He gave me the chance to grow up. He gave me the chance to get a great education. And because of that, everything that is significant in my life has happened in Chapel Hill.”
“Dean Smith really shaped Hubert Davis, every coaching philosophy he has,” Dukes said. “Hubert talks about him almost everyday. Every practice we get quotes from him, so we’ve all developed a huge respect for him. The things he teaches we implement, so that’s a legend.”
“While I’m coaching JV, I always want to have one game here,” Davis said. “Just to let these guys know, and also the fans to understand, what this place, this university, this basketball program is about. And it’s about Coach Smith and about Coach (Bill) Guthridge as well.”