North Carolina men's basketball — a quintessential part of the student experience at UNC — will have a fresh face this season.
This season will be the first time since 2003 that Hall of Famer Roy Williams will not be on the sidelines, as head coach Hubert Davis ushers in a new era of UNC hoops. Many know Davis for his days playing in college and the NBA, as well as serving as an assistant coach with the Tar Heels for nine seasons.
Davis made history in April by becoming UNC’s first Black men's basketball head coach. He's also the fourth former North Carolina player to hold the position.
While his legacy begins on a meaningful note, only time will tell if he can etch his coaching stint into Tar Heel lore.
His legendary predecessors, Dean Smith and Roy Williams, did not build Rome in a day. Smith missed the NCAA Tournament during his first five seasons as a head coach. Williams won the NCAA championship in his second season but finished 19-11 during his first, making the NCAA Tournament as a six seed.
Davis will likely have time to build a Rome of his own, especially given his status as a former Tar Heel player. Beginning with Tom Scott in 1946, only two of the six head coaches at North Carolina have coached fewer than four seasons. Davis' assistants — Brad Frederick, Sean May, Jackie Manuel and Jeff Lebo — also spent time in Chapel Hill as players.
But beyond the coaching staff, Tar Heel fans can expect to see a mix of old and new faces on the court.
This year's roster sees four of last year's five starters returning, alongside three new transfer players — Dawson Garcia of Marquette, Brady Manek of Oklahoma and Justin McKoy of Virginia — as well as two four-star first-year prospects in D'Marco Dunn and Dontrez Styles. With just two first-years on the squad, North Carolina has its share of experienced players, most of whom are already familiar with Davis' coaching style.
While the lineups for the upcoming season are up in the air, Armando Bacot, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder from a year ago, is a near lock to stay in the starting five. Senior forward Leaky Black is set to complete his UNC tenure this season and will be an experienced wing defender and perimeter scorer for the Tar Heels. Sophomore Kerwin Walton is another swingman who saw the court a lot last season and will likely feature more this season as Davis hopes to channel his hot shooting streaks.
Davis' transfers, meanwhile, will enter a frontcourt that lost twin towers Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler to the NBA Draft and the transfer portal, respectively. Davis has the opportunity to alter his offensive game plan with Garcia, who stands at 6 feet, 11 inches tall and shot 36 percent from 3-point range last season with Marquette. Given his ability to stretch the floor, Garcia starting alongside Bacot at the four would give the Tar Heels' dynamic interior options and allow more room for Bacot to operate inside.
The roster also sees a level of glut in the backcourt, as UNC returns some familiar faces and adds new ones. Rising sophomores Caleb Love and RJ Davis got thrown into the pandemic-related fire during their unusual first seasons, which also saw redshirt sophomore Anthony Harris put on some eye-opening performances after his return from injury.
It may take time for Dunn and Styles, the incoming first-years, to crack the starting lineup. As many established starters have returned, the two new recruits will likely have to put on a show of their own in their reserve minutes.
With Davis taking the reins, UNC basketball could get a fresh start in 2022. He might not hit the heights expected of the North Carolina Tar Heels, especially given his transfer frontcourt options and jam-packed guard rotation.
But like his predecessors know, Rome wasn't built in a day.