The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday September 18th

Column: Davis points to new era for UNC men's basketball

Hubert Davis socializes after his introductory press conference on Tuesday, April 6, 2021.
Buy Photos Hubert Davis socializes after his introductory press conference on Tuesday, April 6, 2021.

I have been to more press conferences in my life than I care to remember, not because the number is so high, but because they are usually pretty boring affairs.

I don't mean to bemoan the people who ensure that this sports reporting industry exists (if they never spoke we'd have far less to write about), but you can generally predict most of what will be said before you get there. 

I don't think I ever could have predicted — and I likely soon won't forget — Hubert Davis' introductory press conference as the head coach of the UNC men's basketball team. The level of emotion and sincerity he brought to that moment caught me completely off guard. 

For years, Roy Williams brought a certain level of curmudgeonly sarcasm to the job — that made the few moments when he really made himself vulnerable, like after the losses to Clemson and Duke last year, all the more notable. But in the hour that Davis was there, talking about his journey to this moment, he made it immediately clear he's going to wear his heart on his sleeve while in the head coaching chair. 

What that means exactly for the program, I couldn't tell you. I'm not a Division I basketball player, and I don't think I could ever have the mentality of one — but at the very least things will be different.

After two sub-par years where the talent seemed better than the results for North Carolina, maybe different isn't such a bad thing. 

Williams made it almost heartbreakingly clear that he didn't think he was the right man for the job anymore, and I don't think it's out of turn to say that college basketball, with everything both on and off the court, was going to fully pass him by sooner rather than later. 

Davis has already joked on ESPN about needing big men who can shoot, which at least means he's thinking about moving UNC in a modern direction. The Carolina offense, while not static, is at least very similar to the same stuff Dean Smith was running 60 years ago — it's also a style of play that's really hard to run with a bunch of young guys. 

Williams proved he could still coach genuinely great teams (the Tar Heels were a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament two years ago) but that was helmed by talented and experienced players. That combination is rare these days, especially if you go chasing blue-chip prospects who won't stay all four years like UNC has. 

Is Davis going to come in on day one and throw out the principles the school has relied on for the past several decades? Absolutely not, and he said it himself: "The foundation is set here at Carolina."

But he also knows the game has changed. You don't have to tell the best statistical three-point shooter in school history that shooting is important. Davis watched first-hand on the bench this past season as his team shot an abysmal 31.8 percent from three. You cannot play the game trading threes for twos, especially not when UNC's best advantage — offensive rebounding — might not even be there next year with most of the frontcourt possibly gone. 

I'd expect North Carolina men's basketball to look more modern next year. The transfer-palooza that could come means it's impossible to predict what UNC's roster will actually look like, but I'd be surprised if Davis doesn't target a modern big man who can stretch the floor. 

Davis said all the right things in his introduction, but college basketball is a cruel world where the eternal dictum is 'what have you done for me lately?' If Davis' team starts slow, or looks like an antiquated offense with ill-fitted players, good-natured sincerity will only keep him in the coach's chair for so long.  

@bg_keyes

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com 

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