When do you know it’s time?
Is it when, after nearly 30 years of dominance, a first-round win is no longer promised?
Is it when naysayers insist your once-foolproof formula is no longer effective — when two brute bigs on the low blocks can get played off the court by 6-foot-3 forwards that shoot the lights out?
Or, is it when transfer rules open the doors for roster volatility, potentially limiting your impact to develop high school kids into not only future All-Americans, but young men who prepare to tackle the challenges of the real world?
For Roy Williams, those questions were answered when the Hall of Fame basketball coach played a not-so-funny April Fools' Day joke and retired as the head coach of the North Carolina men’s basketball team. When he sunk into his seat at the podium, he admitted, with tears in his eyes, that he felt he was “no longer the right man for the job.”
With 903 wins — 485 during his UNC tenure — three national championships and a sea of Carolina Blue suits, ties and Jordans that became just as synonymous to his persona as his white hair and Asheville drawl, finding someone even more qualified than Williams should have been daunting.
Instead, the Tar Heels stayed in the “family” — and came away with what they believed was the next best thing.
After resisting the temptation to explore accomplished external candidates and offer them a blank check to operate what many consider one of the premier coaching positions in college sports, UNC handed the reins to assistant coach Hubert Davis, who has been tied to the University since playing under Dean Smith from 1988-1992. The thought process didn’t last long, either.
Just five days after Williams sat at the table with sadness, Davis stepped in with a smile.
While the hire clearly indicated the program wanted to stick to its traditional principles, it also reflected the Tar Heels’ focus of shifting toward the modern era of college basketball.
In addition to the play style changing to a more pace-and-space, perimeter-oriented game — Davis is probably grinning as the holder of the third-best three-point percentage in NBA history — college teams have begun trusting former NBA players to lead their alma maters, such as Penny Hardaway and Juwan Howard at Memphis and Michigan, respectively. Using his professional pedigree and ESPN affiliation, where his stint once helped him become Williams’ top recruiter, Davis has wasted little time retooling the North Carolina program.
Although some outliers exist — talking to you, Cam Johnson — Williams was never one to rely too heavily on the transfer portal. But in 2021, with restrictions eased and former blue-chippers moving from coast to coast, joining the brigade became a necessity to compete at a high level.
In just a matter of months, Davis brought in graduate forward Brady Manek, a near 1500-point scorer at Oklahoma, and sophomore forward Dawson Garcia, a former McDonald’s All-American. Both have been valuable contributors to the Tar Heels’ 4-2 start, averaging double figures in scoring and shooting a combined 19-45 from deep.
Anyone that interacts with Davis off the court will be the first to tell you he’s courteous and cordial. His personality often illuminates any room he steps into, and while being a man of faith and morals, he is always keen on making someone laugh.
When he’s pacing the sidelines, though, he’s first and foremost a competitor. If a player comes off a screen hesitant to shoot, the soft-spoken Davis will turn up the noise. Same goes for missing an open man or making a late defensive rotation.
As Davis works his way through his first season, there are sure to be some growing pains. Through six games thus far, some may have already developed. While the offense — averaging 83.2 points per game — has been resurrected after two dormant campaigns filled with growing pains and COVID-19 wonkiness, the defense has taken a significant step back.
After holding opponents to under 70 points per game last season, UNC is now surrendering 78.7 per contest. The Tar Heels haven’t exactly been playing any world-beaters either, as aside from facing now-No. 2 Purdue and No. 13 Tennessee at the Hall of Fame Tipoff two weeks ago, they have allowed the likes of Brown and Charleston to carve them up and score at will.
In the coming weeks, Davis will have several chances to put the first stamp on his resume, including Wednesday versus No. 24 Michigan and Dec. 18 against No. 5 UCLA.
Following in the footsteps of a legend is never easy, and for someone with no previous head coaching experience, that task is harder than ever.
But Davis knows there is still room for his team to grow, and even more room for the fanbase to believe ...
And ultimately, let the college basketball world know the time is his.
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