As a head-coaching novice, there has yet to be one poor play-call, one ill-timed substitution or one non-conference trap game that has given Hubert Davis a fit.
But there is one bad memory that might keep him up at night.
In December 2017, when he was an assistant for the charming, yet often fiery Roy Williams, the Tar Heels traveled to Tennessee to face the Volunteers in a top-25 matchup. During the tightly-contested battle, Davis slipped out a naughty word that brought him to tears the next day.
“I apologized to each one of them because it was important for me that in their four years, they would say they never heard that from Coach Davis,” Davis said at the ACC Tipoff event last month. “And so for that group, they heard one from me and I told them it would never happen again.”
On the surface, Davis shares many of the same characteristics as his Hall of Fame predecessor. They’re both Carolina bred and were both disciples of the man whose name adorns the team’s home arena. But as his players will tell you, there seems to be a new-school approach to the first-year head coach with old-school principles.
“Coach Davis still has the fundamental Carolina values, but just adding a twist to it has been great,” junior forward Armando Bacot said. “It's kind of like a like an iPhone update, a software update, and you get like a newer version.”
Behind closed doors, Davis sticks to his morals. Players can curate the practice playlist, but profanity is banned from any of the songs that are played. If any player says something forbidden, the rest of the team pays the price by doing sprints.
Such anecdotes may portray Davis to be somewhat enigmatic among modern coaches, but his players know it all leads to their own development. When Davis walks into a room, he displays the charisma that once made him an ESPN personality. When it gets down to basketball, he showcases the grit and passion that gave him a 12-year NBA career.
“I feel like he just instilled into us that he's all about business,” sophomore guard Caleb Love said. “Like he's so happy and all smiles off the court, but when it’s on the court he's all about business — that just goes to show you what type of competitor he is.”
Being a role model is one of Davis’ priorities, but at the helm of the third-winningest program in the history of college basketball, there are also championship aspirations on his mind. To win a title in today’s day in age, coaches need to get a little crafty when constructing the roster.
When Williams abruptly retired in April, he said that he felt he was no longer the "right man for the job.” Many thought this belief was associated with the new trend of players transferring at a historic rate.
Since taking over the program, Davis has joined the brigade, bringing in three new players — Brady Manek, Dawson Garcia and Justin McKoy — who are all expected to have an impact this season, especially in the team’s more perimeter-based offensive system.
“Their ability to spread the floor and make plays and shoot the ball from three gives our guys the spacing to be able to use all their gifts and talents out there on the floor,” Davis said. “That’s probably the major thing that would be different this year compared to last year.”
As Davis looks to win over the Tar Heel fan base he will do so without forgetting those that came before him. At practice, his preferred shoe is the Jordan Series 01 “Dear Dean,” which is written on the side to honor his former coach.
And of course, he’s open to learning as much as he can from the man that made his position available.
“I told (Roy) I wasn’t moving into his office until they made an office for him in the basketball office,” Davis said. “He’s been terrific and I love him.”
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