By R.L. Bynum

You might expect there would be nerves and anxiety less than a week before his first game as the head coach for a tradition-rich men’s basketball program.

You’d be wrong in the case of Hubert Davis, and people around the program have noticed that as well.

After Monday’s practice, Eric Hoots, the program’s director of operations stopped Davis because he had a question.

“He said, ‘you’re having fun, aren’t you?’ ” Davis said during a Wednesday press conference. “And I said, ‘Eric, I am. I said I’m having a ball.’ I said ‘I just love being around these kids on and off the court. It’s a joy to be able to coach them and to hug them and to teach them and try to get the best out of them.’ I’m having the time of my life.”

Davis sounded like a veteran coach when he said that there haven’t been any real challenges.

“I’ve always loved basketball, and getting an opportunity to be around the game and to coach? That’s a dream come true,” Davis said. “And then to be able to do that at a place that I’ve loved my entire life has just been terrific. And so having a front-row seat to be able to help these kids out and to reach all their personal and their team goals is a privilege in his honor. And it’s something that I look forward to every day.”

UNC faces Elizabeth City State at 7:30 Friday night at the Smith Center in the Tar Heels’ only public exhibition game (ACC Network Extra). The Vikings lost a Monday exhibition game at N.C. State 87–68. Guard Zaccheus Hobbs, a graduate student, scored 15 points to lead the Vikings, who rebounded 36.1% of their misses against the Wolfpack.

The Tar Heels’ opener is a 7 p.m. Tuesday at home against Loyola Maryland (ACC Network).

One of the biggest debates among fans in the offseason is about who will start. Most assume that center Armando Bacot and point guard Caleb Love are locks to make the lineup but the rest of the lineup predictions have varied.

Davis has been debating himself with the first games approaching.

“At this point, it could be a fluid situation, depending on practice, depending on matchups,” Davis said. “In terms of the starting lineup, yes, I am thinking about it. It’s not set right now. I feel like I’m close. But the thing that I’ve been focusing on more is the rotation — not necessarily the starting lineup. We’ve got a lot of talented guys and there’s a lot of guys that want to play. The competition in practices has been right where I wanted it to be.”

There has been a lot of talk about the new offensive style that Davis has implemented with more spacing, four players outside of the arc at times and many more 3-point attempts. There has been little chatter about his approach on defense and how it compares to Coach Dean Smith, who used multiple defenses, and Coach Roy Williams, who usually stuck with man-to-man.

There isn’t a simple answer, but Davis said that the Tar Heels will primarily play man-to-man.

“I’m a man-to-man defensive coach and I believe in it, but I also believe in changing defenses,” Davis said. “One of the things that I always say is I don’t want the offense to get a steady diet of what they’re looking at. In order to do that defensively, you’re going to have to make changes. So, I like to change.”

Davis says that you’ll see UNC play zone and employ a three-quarter-court soft trap press.

“I like to try many different things in different looks so that from an offensive standpoint, whoever we play, they don’t feel comfortable out there,” Davis said.

The biggest issue offensively last season was turnovers, which doomed Carolina’s chances of winning in many games last season. With a season of experience for Love and RJ Davis, that’s an area that has looked much better in the preseason.

“One of the things that have been a huge emphasis for us all year is making the easy play and taking care of basketball,” Hubert Davis said, adding that the Tar Heels did well with that in the closed scrimmage Oct. 23 against Florida and that they got lots of second shots. “That’s always been a theme for us to continue to get better at is taking care of the basketball and making sure that we’re getting shots.”

In that exhibition against the Gators in Gainesville, Fla., Davis said that his team showed some nice toughness and resiliency after it didn’t get off to a good start.

“They’re very athletic,” Davis said of the Gators. “They’re very aggressive, especially on the defensive end. And for the first couple minutes, they kind of punched us. And I really felt great about how we responded to that. And I was very encouraged at the end of that scrimmage.”

Florida and UNC agreed before the scrimmage not to reveal the score or any statistical details.

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Puff Johnson, who was sidelined with a January toe injury last season, still isn’t ready to play and Davis isn’t sure of the timetable for the sophomore guard. Johnson is dealing with a hip strain that needs time to heal and rehab.

Davis added two junior walk-on guards to the roster this week to push the roster to 17.

Joining the team are 6–0 Jackson Watkins from Richmond and 6–3 Rob Landry from Greensboro, the son of former UNC player Pierce Landry, who played in high school at Durham’s N.C. School of Science & Math.

Both played for Coach Brad Frederick on the junior varsity team two seasons ago.

UNC schedule

DateDay, time, TVLocationOpponent
November
5Friday, 7:30, ACCNXHomeElizabeth City State (exhibition)
9Tuesday, 7, ACCNHomeLoyola Maryland
12Friday, 9, ACCNHomeBrown
16Tuesday, 8:30, CBSSNRoadCollege of Charleston
20Saturday, 4, ESPN NewsUncasville, Conn.Y – Purdue
21Sunday, 1 or 3:30, ABC or ESPNUncasville, Conn.Y – Tennessee or Villanova
23Tuesday, 7, RSNHomeUNC Asheville
December
1Wednesday, 9:15, ESPNHomeX – Michigan
5Sunday, 3, ESPNRoadGeorgia Tech
11Saturday, 8, ACCNHomeElon
14Tuesday, 7, ESPN2HomeFurman
18Saturday, 3, CBSLas VegasUCLA
21Tuesday, 7, ACCNHomeAppalachian State
29Wednesday, 7, ESPN2HomeVirginia Tech
January
1Saturday, noon, ACCNRoadBoston College
5Wednesday, 9, ESPN2RoadNotre Dame
8Saturday, 1, ESPNHomeVirginia
15Saturday, 8, ACCNHomeGeorgia Tech
18Tuesday, TBA, ESPNRoadMiami
22Saturday, 8, ACCNRoadWake Forest
26Wednesday, RSNHomeBoston College
29Saturday, 2, ACCNHomeN.C. State
31Monday, 7, ESPNRoadLouisville
February
5Saturday, 6, ESPNHomeDuke
8Tuesday, 9, ESPN or ESPN2RoadClemson
12Saturday, 2, ESPN or ESPN2HomeFlorida State
16Wednesday, 8, ACCNHomePittsburgh
19Saturday, 4, ESPN or ESPN2RoadVirginia Tech
21Monday, 7, ESPNHomeLouisville
26Saturday, 2 or 4, ESPN or ESPN2RoadN.C. State
28Monday, 7, ESPNHomeSyracuse
March
5Saturday, 6, ESPNRoadDuke
8–
12
ACC TournamentBrooklyn
ACCNX — ACC Network Extra (ESPN3); CBSSN — CBS Sports Network; RSN — regional sports networks;
ACCN — ACC Network; X — ACC/Big Ten Challenge; Y — Hall of Fame Tip-Off; Z — CBS Sports Classic

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