By R.L. Bynum
After the last game of each season, Coach Roy Williams always gave his assistant coaches a chance to say something to the team.
Hubert Davis said no to the Hall of Fame coach’s offer eight times but couldn’t turn down the ninth chance after Carolina’s frustrating 85–62 first-round loss in the NCAA tournament last season against Wisconsin.
At the time, Davis knew something none of the players knew.
“I was upset, and I was frustrated,” Davis said. “I wanted to let them know that this wasn’t Carolina. It wasn’t Carolina to lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It wasn’t Carolina to lose in that fashion.”
It just didn’t sit well with Davis, and he wanted the players to know about it and wanted an attitude adjustment. Eleven days earlier, Williams had told Davis he was going to retire and that he wanted Davis to succeed him.
He wasn’t yet the head coach when he delivered those stern words in a Mackey Arena dressing room in West Lafayette, Indiana. But they were delivered like he was a man ready to lead them, even though the players didn’t know the historic change was coming.
“I wanted guys that were committed to being a part of this program, being a part of this team and achieving all the team goals that we’ve always wanted to achieve every year,” Davis said. “And I gave an opening to every guy on there. If they weren’t locked in, they didn’t have both feet in … If they didn’t unpack their bags and give this program everything that they had, then they needed to leave. They needed to transfer.”
Davis wanted no part of any of those players staying with the program if they weren’t going to take the approach that he demands.
“I wanted guys fully committed,” he said. “I wanted guys that wanted to be here, wanted to be a part of this program and this history. I was clear and definitive in what I wanted to communicate to them after that Wisconsin game.”
The speech got the attention of center Armando Bacot, now a junior, and the rest of the players.
“Coach Davis let us know that’s not the Carolina way,” said Bacot, remembering the blunt postgame words. “So, coming in, everybody that came back wanted to be here, so that’s what it is.”
Part of the Carolina way that Davis is emphasizing this season is being committed to the team playing good defense on every possession or finding a place on the bench for players who don’t have that resolve.
Going back to a method Davis saw when he played under Coach Dean Smith, he picks his starting lineup based on how players grade out defensively.
“I love that Coach Smith, even though that I could shoot the ball pretty well, for myself personally, he held me accountable on being able to do well on a defensive end as well,” Davis said. “And that’s what I want to do with these guys.
“It’s not okay to just score 30 points, but allow your guy to score 40,” Davis said. “You’re gonna have to play on both ends of the floor and I want our guys to be locked in and for us to be the best defensive team that we can be. So, in order to hold each other accountable, I thought that I would bring back the defensive award winners and allow guys to be rewarded for their effort on the defensive end by being allowed to start. And so I’m looking forward to doing that for the remainder of the year.”
That could mean that the starting lineup changes from game to game. But Davis said Monday with a laugh that he already knows who will start Tuesday’s 7 p.m. season opener at the Smith Center when No. 19 UNC takes on Loyola Maryland (ACC Network).
Bacot said that a huge part of every practice is going through a defensive execution series where they practice many defensive concepts.
“And that’s something that we have a lot of fun doing, too,” Bacot said. “We kind of got a lot of significant defense that we play this year that most college teams don’t play. It’s a lot of fun to be able to play that way.”
Bacot said that since he started his college career, the only team he’s seen with so many different concepts on defense is Duke.
Bacot said that the Tar Heels’ approach on defense is a little different than it was last season.
“We play more like in gaps versus denying,” Bacot said. “Also just the way we play ball screens, it’s a lot easier on me as a big and it kind of allows me to kind of be the quarterback of the defense. It’s harder on the guards, though. But it’s easier on me, so I love it.”
One of Davis’ favorite parts of UNC’s 83–55 exhibition victory Friday over Elizabeth City State was when the Tar Heels held the Vikings scoreless for nearly the first six minutes of the second half with 10 consecutive stops.
“That’s pretty impressive,” Davis said. “So, I was really happy with it defensively. Going into Loyola, I want us to be really great defensively. That’s an area that I feel like that we can be consistent every day. Shots go in, and sometimes we make them, sometimes we miss. But one of the things consistently is for us to be great on the defensive end.”
The tough defense allowed UNC to get some easy transition baskets, something he’d like to see consistently.
There’s no doubt a player who doesn’t have the right attitude in general and play good defense will do more watching than playing.
|Date||Score/day, time, TV||Location||Opponent|
|5||83–55 exhibition win||Home||Elizabeth City State|
|9||Tuesday, 7, ACCN||Home||Loyola Maryland|
|12||Friday, 9, ACCN||Home||Brown|
|16||Tuesday, 8:30, CBSSN||Road||College of Charleston|
|20||Saturday, 4, ESPN News||Uncasville, Conn.||Y – Purdue|
|21||Sunday, 1 or 3:30, ABC or ESPN||Uncasville, Conn.||Y – Tennessee or Villanova|
|23||Tuesday, 7, RSN||Home||UNC Asheville|
|1||Wednesday, 9:15, ESPN||Home||X – Michigan|
|5||Sunday, 3, ESPN||Road||Georgia Tech|
|11||Saturday, 8, ACCN||Home||Elon|
|14||Tuesday, 7, ESPN2||Home||Furman|
|18||Saturday, 3, CBS||Las Vegas||UCLA|
|21||Tuesday, 7, ACCN||Home||Appalachian State|
|29||Wednesday, 7, ESPN2||Home||Virginia Tech|
|1||Saturday, noon, ACCN||Road||Boston College|
|5||Wednesday, 9, ESPN2||Road||Notre Dame|
|8||Saturday, 1, ESPN||Home||Virginia|
|15||Saturday, 8, ACCN||Home||Georgia Tech|
|18||Tuesday, TBA, ESPN||Road||Miami|
|22||Saturday, 8, ACCN||Road||Wake Forest|
|26||Wednesday, RSN||Home||Boston College|
|29||Saturday, 2, ACCN||Home||N.C. State|
|31||Monday, 7, ESPN||Road||Louisville|
|5||Saturday, 6, ESPN||Home||Duke|
|8||Tuesday, 9, ESPN or ESPN2||Road||Clemson|
|12||Saturday, 2, ESPN or ESPN2||Home||Florida State|
|16||Wednesday, 8, ACCN||Home||Pittsburgh|
|19||Saturday, 4, ESPN or ESPN2||Road||Virginia Tech|
|21||Monday, 7, ESPN||Home||Louisville|
|26||Saturday, 2 or 4, ESPN or ESPN2||Road||N.C. State|
|28||Monday, 7, ESPN||Home||Syracuse|
|5||Saturday, 6, ESPN||Road||Duke|
X — ACC/Big Ten Challenge; Y — Hall of Fame Tip-Off; Z — CBS Sports Classic