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Saturday June 25th

'Act of service': Hubert Davis' coaching philosophy leads UNC to Elite Eight

Head coach Hubert Davis yells to his players at the NCAA Sweet 16 game against UCLA at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA on March 25, 2022. UNC won 73-66 and will be advancing to the Elite 8.
Buy Photos Head coach Hubert Davis yells to his players at the NCAA Sweet 16 game against UCLA at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA on March 25, 2022. UNC won 73-66 and will be advancing to the Elite 8.

On Friday night, Hubert Davis didn’t want to talk about January.

In No. 8 seed North Carolina's postgame press conference following its victory over No. 4 seed UCLA, a reporter asked about the Tar Heel's recent turnaround, pointing out a 22-point loss against Wake Forest just over two months ago.

As soon as that loss was mentioned, Davis jumped in.

“That was a long time ago,” he said. “I apologize — no, I’m serious. We’ve won 15 out of the last 18 games? I mean, that Wake Forest game was in January. As I told you before, and I apologize, I’m a positive guy.”

As the 51-year-old nears the end of his first full season pacing the sidelines for his alma mater, that much seems certain: Hubert Davis is a positive guy.

At times — as the Tar Heels fate faded toward uncertainty, Quad 1 wins (and a lack thereof) were obsessed over and a run to the N.I.T. semifinals looked far more likely than a trip to New Orleans — that attitude may have seemed misguided.

But even through all the challenges that Davis had a front row seat to, his mindset persisted — and carried through his staff and players.

"We knew we could make this run," junior forward Armando Bacot said on Friday. "Coach Davis and all the coaches, even when we struggled, always told us that. We never thought at one point we were a bad team."

On Saturday, as UNC held its media availability on the eve of an Elite Eight matchup with No. 15 seed St. Peter’s, Davis was more willing to discuss the past.

“I know that everybody wants everything to fit perfectly in November and December,” he said.” It just takes time. I just felt like the shared experiences and the time that we’ve spent on and off the court has allowed us to grow together, to understand each other and to accept each other … We’re settled now. We’re in a place of togetherness.” 

Davis has repeatedly said that he views his position in coaching as “Missionary work.” 

He's shown that philosophy in his responses to questions about himself throughout the season. At the helm of one of college basketball’s most successful programs, Davis has been presented with plenty of opportunities to discuss his experience.

One such question was asked following the win over UCLA — specifically about his feelings toward advancing to the Elite Eight in his first year as a head coach.

Davis teared up.

“This year, where I feel happiness and joy and I’m proud is that they're getting those memories,” he said. “It’s just not about me at all. Coaching is an act of service.” 

On Saturday, his words were similar: 

“For me this year, there has always been a desperation to be successful. I just want things to work out for them.”

St. Peter’s head coach Shaheen Holloway, who has received as much admiration as anyone this March for his job in coaching the Peacocks to the first Elite 8 appearance ever by a No. 15 seed, had praise for Davis.

“I love what he’s doing for his guys,” Holloway said in a Saturday press conference. “I love how they play hard for him, they respond to him.”

With two wins to go before national championship heights are an immediate consideration, there is still a difficult path for this year’s North Carolina team to etch itself permanently into college basketball lore.

But if this March has been any indication, Davis has proven capable of guiding the program he played for 30 years ago for the foreseeable future.

@zachycrain

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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