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'The right coach': After long road, Hubert Davis ascends to head coaching position

Hubert Davis, the new head coach of UNC men’s basketball, speaks at a press conference on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. “North Carolina is the standard. There's nobody that has family, nobody that's an example of togetherness and family than here at North Carolina,“ said Davis.

Was it ever going to be anyone else? 

Hubert Davis might not be the prodigal son returning home that Roy Williams was 18 years ago, but he's as close as anyone alive, bar Michael Jordan, could be. For a program that loves to keep things in the family, there was no other choice — after all, in his parting message, Williams named him "the finest young man I have ever known in my life." 

A former player under Dean Smith and 12-year NBA veteran before spending nine years on Williams' coaching staff, UNC announced on Monday that Davis would be the next head coach of the North Carolina men's basketball team, following Williams' retirement on April 1. He's the first Black head coach in program history. 

In his 33-year Hall of Fame career — the last 18 of which came at UNC — Williams won 903 games, the third-most in Division I men's basketball history. He also won three national championships in 2005, 2009 and 2017, all of which came at UNC. 

"I've learned more in the last four days about the strength and bond and relationships and loyalty and commitment of the Carolina family ... than I have in the last 10 years," director of athletics Bubba Cunningham said at Davis' introductory press conference on Tuesday. 

"I've talked to more than 20 basketball players, former players, coaches, and to a person they are selfless. Their value base, they have a level of integrity, and a level of selflessness that I've never seen. I talked to many that were interested in being the head coach. And at the end of the conversation each and every one of them said 'I'd love to be the head coach, but if it's not me, I know you'll do the right thing, and all I want is for Carolina to get the right coach.' And we have found the right coach."

With no prior head coaching experience, Davis follows in a long tradition of the Tar Heels' leader coming from the previous head coach's bench, either in a suit or in shorts. This dates back to 1961, when Smith was promoted from assistant coach off of Frank McGuire's staff. 

"I wanted this job. I've always wanted to be a head coach," Davis said at his press conference. "I've always wanted to be a head coach, only here. I've always wanted to walk the same road, the same path as Coach Smith and Coach (Bill) Guthridge and Coach Williams. And I'm so excited and humbled and thankful and appreciative and excited to be able to do with my own personality and in my own shoes. And I'm just very thankful for everyone and I'm ready to go."

Once a Tar Heel…

A native of Winston-Salem, Davis came to UNC by way of Lake Braddock High School in Burke, Virginia. The nephew of former North Carolina standout and six-time NBA All-Star Walter Davis, Hubert averaged 28 points his senior year of high school. He wanted to play at UNC, but wasn't initially offered a scholarship by Smith. 

After Davis' father asked if his son would get a chance if he walked on the team, Smith made him a scholarship player, making him the only recruit of the class of 1988. 

In his four-year career under Smith, Davis would play 137 games in Carolina Blue, scoring 1,615 points in his career and averaging 21.4 points his senior year en route to earning All-ACC second-team honors. During his time at UNC, the Tar Heels won two ACC conference tournaments in 1989 and 1991 and played in the 1991 Final Four. By the time he graduated, Davis was the school's all-time leader in three-point shooting, with a career mark of 43.5 percent, a record he still holds. 

After being taken with the 20th pick in the 1992 NBA Draft by the New York Knicks, he spent 12 years in the NBA as a three-point specialist journeyman. His career highlight came in Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Semifinals between Davis' Knicks and the Chicago Bulls. 

Davis was fouled by Scottie Pippen with 2.1 seconds left in the game on a shot attempt. The former Tar Heel hit two free throws to win the game, 87-86, and the Knicks would go on to win the series in seven games. 

In his 12 years, Davis played for six different teams, scored 5,583 points. He is currently second all-time in career three-point percentage at 44.09 percent. Following the end of his playing career, Davis began a seven-year career as an analyst on ESPN, co-hosting the College GameDay broadcast. 

… Always a Tar Heel

Despite the cushy TV job, Davis wanted to break into coaching. When Jerod Haase left Williams' staff to become the head coach at UAB in 2012, a spot on the bench opened up for Davis to rejoin the Tar Heels. 

"For the last four or five years Hubert has always been on my mind in case a spot did come open," Williams said in 2012. "I didn't know if I could get him to come back, but I knew I wanted him to be the first option. Coaching is about teaching, relationships and passion and I feel Hubert is the perfect choice. Our student-athletes will benefit greatly from what he adds to our staff." 

Davis would spend the next nine years on the Tar Heels' staff, ultimately serving as the head coach of UNC's JV program as well. He was a member of the bench during North Carolina's runs to the national championship games in 2016 and 2017. 

Known for being the driving engine behind UNC's recruiting, his connections with former NBA players helped him land five-star recruits like Cole Anthony. Now taking over for Williams, Davis' first job will be to start working the recruiting trail to keep the few incoming recruits the Tar Heels have for the 2021-2022 season — and make North Carolina a desirable location for the massive influx of players in the transfer portal this summer. 

"The guys, the returning players, and I've talked to them, in order for us to be successful, and for them to be able to achieve the team goals that we need and also the individual goals and hopes and dreams that those guys have, this summer is huge for them to significantly get better," Davis said. "We've got to get better with the transfer portal and bring in big-time players that have a vision of wanting to be a part of this program, wanting to be a part of this history, in wanting to be big-time players here on the floor."

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