By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — Practice at the Smith Center followed a lot of the same routines players have become accustomed to for years, but the vibe felt different Wednesday as the 2021–22 team took the court for its second official practice.
It starts, of course, with first-year head coach Hubert Davis running the show instead of Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams. After nine seasons as an assistant coach making suggestions, Davis has “the big whistle” as he prepares for his head-coaching debut at home Nov. 9 against Loyola of Maryland.
“The biggest thing is you’re not making suggestions anymore, you’re making decisions,” Davis said last month. “And, you know, I’ve been married 22 years and I’ve got three kids. I’m used to making some decisions.”
Williams typically spoke to his team for two or three minutes at the start of practice, but Davis talked to the Tar Heels for about eight minutes before practice on Roy Williams Court. He was joking around with players before practice and had a consistent smile on his face.
Make no mistake, though. Davis was in command and very serious when the practice started, yelling at times to get his point across. At one point, he emphatically told the players he was tired of something.
“That’s not cool!” Davis yelled at one point.
In no surprise, he gets his point across with authority but without profanity.
At the end, Davis told them that they did a great job but that they have to get in shape.
During practice, there were sights you never saw before during a Carolina practice.
One practice set started with Armando Bacot or Marquette transfer Dawson Garcia in the middle and four players outside the 3-point arc. There was the movement, a rotation, an additional player inside and three still outside of the arc.
This is the sort of spacing you’ll see this season that was rare before.
There were plenty of other noticeable differences, though, now that Steve Robinson is on the Arizona staff and Kendall Marshall is no longer with the program. But there is new life on the staff with the addition of former players Jeff Lebo, Pat Sullivan and Jackie Manuel and with Sean May elevated to assistant coach.
Lebo was the first person Davis called after he got the job.
“We’ve been friends for a long time and I’ve just always admired Jeff, even as a teammate and as a friend and as a coach,” Davis said in August. “He’s been in the position for a number of years of constantly making the decisions and I always believe that you have to have diversity in your staff. But you also have to have people on your staff that have been there before. He brings things to me that I don’t see.”
There was the oddity during one drill of Lebo’s son, walk-on Creighton, guarding him on the perimeter.
It also became obvious that more Tar Heels are dangerous perimeter shooters than a year ago. Kerwin Walton and Puff Johnson are back from last season with that ability, but this team has transfers Brady Manek, Justin McKoy and Garcia who also are threats from 3-point range.
McKoy put up well over 100 3-point attempts before practice, in quick succession, easily making over 60% of his shots.
Even center Armando Bacot could be seen making most of his jumpers before practice.
The players take turns deciding on the music selection before practice, going from oldest to youngest.
Tuesday with Manek — who was limited Wednesday in practice because of a left knee issue, just to be cautious — it was country music. Wednesday, Ryan McAdoo picked music from Kanye West’s latest album.
UNC allowed the media to record the first part of Wednesday’s practice, and here’s how that looked: