1-On-1 With Hubert Davis:
On His Odd Résumé, “Microwaving” A Basketball Team,
2023-24 Priorities, Carolina’s Freshmen And Much More

By David Glenn
North Carolina Sports Network

After just two seasons at the helm in Chapel Hill, North Carolina’s Hubert Davis has one of the most unusual résumés of any head coach in college basketball history.

In 2021-22, Davis led the Tar Heels — through chemistry issues and midseason mediocrity — to 29 victories and the national championship game. Just the fourth rookie coach ever to lead his team to the NCAA title contest, he received multiple National Coach of the Year honors, along with public praise from many of his coaching contemporaries.

In 2022-23, his UNC squad had the worst season (20-13, seventh in the ACC, no postseason) of any preseason #1 team in college basketball history. Since 1980, when for the first time the NCAA Tournament had no restrictions on the number of teams that could represent a single conference, preseason #1 teams had been 42-for-42 in earning a bid to the Big Dance and had advanced to the Final Four almost half the time.

The 2023-24 Tar Heels were ranked #19 in this year’s preseason Associated Press poll, after the offseason departures of three starters and a whopping nine players overall. That latter number comprised two departing seniors and seven outgoing transfers (the highest single-season total in Carolina basketball history), including mercurial starting guard Caleb Love (Arizona).

Amidst his television visits with the ACC Network and his podium time in front of the assembled media in attendance at the ACC’s annual Basketball Tip-Off event in Charlotte last week, Davis took time for this one-on-one visit with David Glenn of the North Carolina Sports Network.

DG: After just two seasons, you have one of the most unusual résumés of any head coach in college basketball history. How do you explain or digest going from National Coach of the Year and NCAA runner-up to preseason #1 and missing the NCAA Tournament altogether?

Davis: (Laughs.) Every year, there’s a reason for that season. Going into a season, the #1 thing — and the only thing that I look at — is, as a team, let’s reach our full potential.

So, the first year, I believe we did that. That was the only disappointment from last year; wherever it was, I didn’t feel like last year’s team reached its full potential.

Whether it’s a sunny day, rainy day, windy day, I think the question on the floor is, how can you respond and how do you react? So, how are we gonna respond and how are we gonna react after last season?

It’s about putting ourselves in a position, not (necessarily) to get back to the championship game, but to get back to, let’s reach our full potential as a team.

DG: When I first met you (in the late 1980s), your legendary coach Dean Smith raved about how you gradually became such a special player over your four seasons in Chapel Hill, and how to a degree a special team could be built over a three- or four-year period. After saying goodbye to nine of your 13 scholarship players from last season, can you “microwave” a basketball team in a single season rather than doing it the old-fashioned way?

Davis: One, yes. (You can.) Two, you have to. That’s where college basketball is right now.

The transfer portal is real. (Name-image-likeness) is real. The extra COVID year; there’s one more year. This is college basketball.

In terms of building and growth, building and growth doesn’t have to take three to four years, but building and growth does have to take place. The growth and the building that has taken place with this team, where we have seven new players, has been a beautiful process over the last five or six months.

It’s just much different. Another thing that’s different in college basketball now is how you can work out. We’re doing individual workouts, practices during the summer. When I played, you didn’t see Coach Smith until Oct. 15. We’ve had so many practices, so many individual workouts, so much time together. That’s the building part that’s already done in the offseason.

College basketball is different now. There is no offseason. It’s on when it’s sunny, it’s on when it’s cold outside.

DG: Many X-and-O analysts will say that UNC didn’t have enough ball movement last season and didn’t have enough quality perimeter shooters, or — as you use the term — “makers.” Others, including your returning starters Armando Bacot and RJ Davis here in Charlotte, are talking more about needing more grit or competitive edge. Which do you see as the biggest challenge for your team?

Davis: I think it’s a combination of all that.

Obviously, you gotta have the ability to shoot the basketball. When you’re last in the ACC with three-point shooting percentage, you’re not checking that box. When you’re 14th in the ACC in team assists, you’re not checking that box, as well. So those are things, from a basketball standpoint, that have to be addressed and have to be better.

I also think, in terms of the discipline and the details, that’s where it comes from. At times, you can lose sight of that. When you experience the praise and prosperity of getting to the (NCAA) championship game, you can lose sight of — and it could be just for a brief time — all of the little things that go in a place to put yourself in a position to be successful.

Those are things that we’re thinking about and addressing as we’re getting ready to start this new year.

DG: Elliot Cadeau, one of the top-rated incoming freshmen in the entire ACC this season, seems to be more of a pure point guard than you’ve had in the rotation these last two years: great handle, push the ball, see the floor, distribute, etc. He obviously can score, too. How do you assess his role at this early stage?

Davis: Well, not just him, but (forward) Zayden High, the other freshman, they’ve been terrific, and I’m so thankful that they’re here.

In regard to Elliot, he brings a giftedness that’s not just unique to our team but unique to college basketball. His ability to make plays with a pass that normal people can’t see is not normal. Also, the #1 thing that I love about him — and there’s many things — is that he gets more excited to pass the ball than he does to shoot it. He celebrates the success of his teammates, which is infectious in our locker room and obviously out there on the floor.

DG: You have described yourself as a man of great faith. What else is on that list of things that you have leaned on during this roller-coaster experience of the last two years?

Davis: Well, life is a roller-coaster. There are sunny days, and there are rainy days, and there’s windy days, and there’s clear-sky days.

So, as I said before, the question on the floor is how do you respond and how do you react when those days come. This is normal.

I’m just enjoying being in this role and having an opportunity to impact these kids’ lives and be able to help them reach all their individual dreams and goals.

David Glenn (DavidGlennShow.com@DavidGlennShow) is an award-winning author, broadcaster, editor, entrepreneur, publisher, speaker, writer and university lecturer (now at UNC Wilmington) who has covered sports in North Carolina since 1987.