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One-on-One with UNC head coach Hubert Davis

joe tipton headshot updatedby:Joe Tipton10/04/22


The North Carolina Tar Heels are coming off an NCAA tournament run that led them all the way to the National Championship game against Kansas. Despite falling to the Jayhawks by only three points in the final, UNC had nothing short of a memorable season. For starters, it was Year 1 in the Hubert Davis era. He inherited a talented program that struggled early on but eventually got the ball rolling.

The Tar Heels fell to their arch-rival Duke in their first meeting of the season, losing by 20 points at home. The next time the two matched up, it was Coach K’s final home game, and UNC strutted off with a win that the North Carolina faithful will never forget.

During March Madness, Duke and North Carolina met once again. This time, it was during the Final Four. Surprisingly, it was the first time the two historic programs ever met during the NCAA tournament. Once more, the Tar Heels leave the court victorious. It was also the last game coach K will ever coach, ending his career one game short.

Now, North Carolina returns virtually its entire roster, with its only major loss coming from Brady Manek.

I was able to sit down with head coach Hubert Davis and spend some time learning more about this team, his expectations, recruiting, and much more.

Here is our conversation.

How does this team compare to the teams that you’ve seen in the last 10 years? 

I personally have never been a comparison guy. I’ve never compared myself to anybody else. I’ve never compared one player to another player, and I’ve never compared a team to another team. To me, this year’s team is this year’s team.

It’s a team that’s hungry and thirsty for more, which is interesting from different perspectives. So you have Armando (Bacot) and Caleb (Love) and RJ (Davis), guys that have the experience of what happened last year. Then you’ve got Pete Nance who had an unbelievable career at Northwestern, but he never had a winning record, and never went to the NCAA tournament.

So there’s a hunger and thirst for him that Armando and all of them don’t know about. Then you’ve got these freshmen coming in who saw everything and they want to be a part of it. So they’re coming at it from a different direction. 

I just think we have an opportunity and a chance to do something special. 

Does Hubert Davis as a player in his prime start for this team? 

Uh, yeah. Yes (laughs).

So that means, RJ, Caleb, or Leaky would be on the bench. One of ‘em gonna come off the bench (laughs). 

I will say this, I would love to play with this team. They’re my kind of guys. I can play for this team. I can be in that locker room with these guys. I can roll with them. 

As a teenager, you chose to come to North Carolina. Why did you pick UNC?

I picked Carolina because I felt like it was the best place for me, not just as a basketball player, but for me as a student and for me as a person. This is where not only did I want to come play, but this is where I wanted to go to school and this is where I wanted to grow up.

Yes, a huge part was a basketball decision. But it was more than that, and it actually gave me back more than what I thought it was going to give me. 

I knew it would give me basketball, academics, and growth as a person but I didn’t know it was going to give me a home.

I didn’t know that after I retired, my wife and I would move back here to raise our children. 

We never even thought that I would be an assistant coach here and we never, never, never thought that I would end up being the head coach here. 

It’s given me more than I thought, and I thought it was giving me a lot.

What is your general recruiting pitch to a player? Why they should come to North Carolina?

Well, I mean, there’s a number of things. Maybe I’m outdated and maybe I’m naive, but this is what I want for every player and every recruit. I want them to have the same experience that I had in college, on the court, off the court, and in the classroom.

I want them to have that. I want them to be able to go to the NBA and play as long as they want to and then retire whenever they want to. That’s what I did. I stopped at 12. I could have played more. I stopped. So I want our guys not only to get to the NBA, but I want them good enough that they can stay in the NBA.

Then after they have a long NBA career, I want them to come back here and I want them to raise their children here in Chapel Hill and for this to be their second home or their first home. So that’s what I want, plain and simple. Period. The end.

When we’re recruiting guys, I tell him it’s not a full ride. It’s a full-life ride. And it’s not just the one year or two years, or three years, or four years. It’s your entire life. 

So when I’m recruiting a guy and I’m wanting him to come here, that’s what I genuinely want for him. It’s bigger than just basketball. 

I don’t know if that’s outdated. but that’s who I am. That’s who I am. That’s what I want. 

What’s your favorite part about the recruiting process and what’s your least favorite part? 

My favorite part about recruiting is building relationships, getting to know the kids and the families, and talking to them about this place.

I just love it. I can talk on the phone, but I always say the best way to communicate is face to face. So I love when it’s allowed the opportunity to be able to spend time with them and just hang out with them and talk to them. I love building relationships so I absolutely love that.

The thing that I hate about recruiting is, the way that I communicate, I’m straightforward and direct. I’m clear and definitive. There’s no vagueness about any of what I say. So I don’t like when I don’t get that in return. I want that in return.

Then my final question, I grew up in Alabama, so I know all about the Alabama – Auburn rivalry football rivalry…


Roll tide. I’m all Alabama. Roll tide. On my bucket list is to meet coach (Nick) Saban. He really reminds me so much of Coach (Dean) Smith and Coach (Bill) Guthridge. I got Alabama stuff all over the place. Oh my gosh. Oh, everybody knows I’m all Alabama. That’s roll tide everything.

I’m serious. I mean like he’s, oh my gosh. I shake his hand, I might retire. He is the dude. I’m just looking for an opportunity to talk about rat poison at a press conference and so hopefully they’ll pick it up and gimme a call.

I love that dude, man. He’s awesome. 

So, obviously, I grew up with the Alabama-Auburn rivalry. How would you describe the UNC-Duke rivalry?

Well, I live in Durham and so, I mean, I can get to Cameron in 10 minutes and I can get here in 10 minutes.

To have two elite programs so close together. I think the thing that is so awesome about both our programs is, it just doesn’t matter. Every year we’re good. It’s hard to do. You see so many teams are good in one year and the next year they struggle. It’s just consistently, both programs have a chance to win it all.

I just don’t see that anywhere in the country. Football, basketball, whatever. I just, that close, same conference, that level, and that consistency. Maybe I’m missing something, but I just don’t see it anywhere else or in any other sport. 

Is Duke week a little bit different preparation-wise or buzz-wise around the campus or team or anything?

No. Maybe for our students, but for us, there’s no change. There’s no change in our preparation. There’s no change in our practice. There is no change in our attention to detail. I think that’s another thing that separates us. It’s not another game, but it’s another game. It is what it is. 

UNC faced Duke in the Final Four. What was that like? Taking into consideration the rivalry, the campuses being 10 minutes apart, etc.

I never really thought about it that way. I thought it was funny that it never happened.

It almost did. In my junior year in ‘91, we went to the Final Four and we were supposed to play UNLV for the championship. We were highly favored against Kansas. And then we lose, and then Duke beats UNLV and then they win the championship. We had beat Duke by 25 and the ACC final just two weeks prior.

They had a heck of a team. Grant (Hill) and Christian (Laettner) and Bobby Hurley) and all of them. So it was surprising that we’ve never met in the NCAA tournament. I think it was great that we met in the Final Four. 

The interesting thing about it was and I don’t know if you guys knew this, but in the back, they had our locker rooms, right next to each other. 

We were here and they were right there and the people were like, ‘What’s the big deal?’ They didn’t get it. 

So when I came out for the game, I was coming out and Coach K was getting ready to come out. They told me to go back in and to wait for Coach K to come out. Then I had to walk out behind him. 

Nothing against Coach K. It wasn’t anything but our locker rooms were right there. We would’ve been walking together. Holding hands, going out there. It was crazy. 

For the first time, the NCAA and people that aren’t around here got to be at that game, and they finally figured it out.

Like, this is different. This is huge. And so I thought that was the cool part. Not many people can get to Cameron. Not many people can get tickets here. But 80,000 got tickets to a Carolina-Duke game and so I thought that was pretty cool. A lot of fun. Cause we won (laughs).