Hubert Davis’ motivating pregame speeches: Full of passion but not profane

By R.L. Bynum

Don’t let Coach Hubert Davis’ calm sideline demeanor fool you. There is a lot of passion, and the first-year Carolina coach has a way of transferring that onto his team during pregame speeches.

His players say that they are ready to run through a wall after his inspiring words.

“You know you see him scowling before the games?” senior Leaky Black said. “Just imagine a pregame speech. It makes you want to run through a brick wall. That’s the message I get. I just try to go out there and play as hard as I can every time for him.”

The No. 8-seed Tar Heels (24–9) face No. 9-seed Marquette (19–12) in Fort Worth, Texas, at 4:30 p.m. Thursday (TBS) in the first round of the NCAA East Regional.

Davis laughs at the suggestion and says that wouldn’t be a good idea if they did that literally. But, metaphorically, he’s happy that his message draws that reaction. He said that he doesn’t spend time planning his message to the team before games, he just lets his emotions guide his words.

“[The speech] just kind of organically goes into something that helps our team focus and puts ourselves in a position to be successful,” said Davis, who learned about inspiring speeches when he played on the New York Knicks for Coach Pat Riley, who gave a different speech before each night, even though it was an 82-game regular season.

“And his stories just resonated with me and made me feel like, as a player, I wanted to run through a brick wall.” Davis said. “So, it isn’t anything planned, it’s just — I’m just trying to communicate to the team where we are, where we want to go so that we clearly understand what we need to do and what we’re trying to accomplish out there on the floor.”

To hear the players talk, it’s working. And Black says that the impressive part is that he does it without cussing.

“Coach Davis, he’s a great motivator,” junior Armando Bacot said. “And just a lot of the things he says, and the ways he says it — I would say for me specifically — it definitely fires me up and a lot of the players. And he instills so much confidence. And I know we all would run through a wall for him.”

Davis talked a few times during the first half of the season about his frustration with his team’s effort and about how he didn’t understand why every player doesn’t share his passion for Carolina basketball.

While Davis brought up the topic of “energy, effort and toughness” plenty of times most of the season in press availabilities, that hasn’t happened since the aftermath of the home loss to Pittsburgh. It’s not a coincidence that the Tar Heels have six of their last seven games since that loss to the Panthers.

Since consecutive road losses to Miami and Wake Forest, UNC has won 12 of its last 15.

Graduate transfer Brady Manek, who shared that frustration with the media after a couple of the particularly frustrating losses, marvels at how Davis motivates his team.

“Coach’s passion for the game, passion for us to succeed, it’s special,” Manek said. “He pushes us and he really focuses on building toughness and us playing the hardest we can. And it’s just — a great coach, a great leader to have.”

RJ Davis says that the reason the speeches connect so well with the team is that he believes in them and wants them to compete.

“His words of wisdom go a long way,” RJ Davis said. “Sometimes he plays in my head while I’m playing. That just shows how much his pregame speeches mean. So, it’s definitely something that carries a long way, not just for myself but for my teammates.”

It was a speech from then-assistant coach Hubert Davis after last season’s first-round NCAA tournament loss to Wisconsin that reset the team’s focus even though the players had no idea at the time that he’d be their head coach the next season.

“I would say that left a bad taste in all of our mouths,” Bacot said of the defeat against the Badgers. “And it’s something that Coach Davis emphasized early on in the week, and just telling us that it won’t go down like that. I mean, I would say for all of us, we packed four or five outfits. So we don’t plan on going home early.”

RJ Davis said that last season’s frustrating finish fuels the team.

“I know last year wasn’t the way I wanted to go out, especially the first round, first game,” he said. “So, this is more like redemption. Just being able to [be a] different team, different mindset. And we all have a mentality of just to win, play together, toughness. So I refuse to have the same outcome as last year.”

If there are any doubts before Thursday’s game, Hubert Davis’ speech will no doubt dispel any of them.

NCAA tournament bracket

East Regionals schedule

First Round
Thursday, March 17
At Dickies Arena
Fort Worth, Texas

Baylor (26–6) vs. Norfolk St. (24–6), 2 p.m.
North Carolina (24–9) vs. Marquette (19–12), 4:30 p.m.

At Moda Center
Portland, Ore.

Saint Mary’s (Cal.) (25–7) vs. Wyoming-Indiana winner, 7:20 p.m.
UCLA (25–7) vs. Akron (24–9), 9:50 p.m.

At Gainbridge Fieldhouse

Murray St. (30–2) vs. San Francisco (24–9), 9:40 p.m.
Kentucky (26–7) vs. St. Peter’s (19–11), 7:10 p.m.

Friday, March 18
At Fiserv Forum

Texas (21–11) vs. Virginia Tech (23–12), 4:30 p.m.
Purdue (27–7) vs. Yale (19–11), 2 p.m.

Second round
Saturday, March 19
At Dickies Arena
Fort Worth, Texas

Baylor-Norfolk St. winner vs. North Carolina-Marquette winner, TBA

At Moda Center
Portland, Ore.

UCLA-Akron winner vs. Saint Mary’s (Cal.)_Wyoming-Indiana winner, TBA

At Gainbridge Fieldhouse

Kentucky-St. Peter’s winner vs. Murray St.-San Francisco winner, TBA

Sunday, March 20
At Fiserv Forum

Purdue-Yale winner vs. Texas-Virginia Tech winner, TBA

At Wells Fargo Center
Regional semifinals
Friday, March 25

Baylor-Norfolk St./North Carolina-Marquette winner vs. UCLA-Akron/Saint Mary’s (Cal.)_Wyoming-Indiana winner, TBA
Kentucky-St. Peter’s/Murray St.-San Francisco winner vs. Purdue-Yale/Texas-Virginia Tech winner, TBA

Regional championship
Sunday, March 27

Semifinal winners, TBA

DateScore, record/
time, day, TV
(current rank)
November (4–2)
583–55 exhibition winHomeElizabeth City State
983–67 win, 1–0HomeLoyola Maryland
1294–87 win, 2–0HomeBrown
1694–83 win, 3–0RoadCollege of Charleston
2093–84 loss, 3–1Uncasville, Conn.Y — No. 10 Purdue
2189–72 loss, 3–2Uncasville, Conn.Y — No. 5 Tennessee
2372–53 win, 4–2HomeUNC Asheville
December (5–1, 1–0 ACC)
172–51 win, 5–2HomeX — Michigan
579–62 win, 6–2, 1-0 ACCRoadGeorgia Tech
1180–63 win, 7–2 ACCHomeElon
1474–61 win, 8–2 ACCHomeFurman
1898–69 loss, 8–3 ACCLas VegasZ — No. 7 Kentucky
2170–50 win, 9–3 ACCHomeAppalachian State
January (6–3, 6–3 ACC)
291–65 win, 10–3, 2-0 ACCRoadBoston College
578–73 loss, 10–4, 2-1 ACCRoadNotre Dame
874–58 win, 11–4, 3–1 ACCHomeVirginia
1588–65 win, 12–4, 4–1 ACCHomeGeorgia Tech
1885–57 loss, 12–5, 4–2 ACCRoadMiami
2298–76 loss, 12–6, 4–3 ACCRoadWake Forest
2478–68 win, 13–6, 5–3 ACCHomeVirginia Tech
2658–47 win, 14–6, 6–3 ACCHomeBoston College
29100–80 win, 15–6, 7–3 ACCHomeN.C. State
February (7–2, 7–2 ACC)
190–82 OT win, 16–6, 8–3 ACCRoadLouisville
587–67 loss, 16–7, 8–4 ACCHomeNo. 9 Duke
879–77 win, 17–7, 9–4 ACCRoadClemson
1294–74 win, 18–7, 10–4 ACCHomeFlorida State
1676–67 loss, 18–8, 10–5 ACCHomePittsburgh
1965–57 win, 19–8, 11–5 ACCRoadVirginia Tech
2170–63 win, 20–8, 12–5 ACCHomeLouisville
2684–74 win, 21–8, 13–5 ACCRoadN.C. State
2888–79 OT win, 22–8, 14–5 ACCHomeSyracuse
March (2–1)
594–81 win, 23–8, 15–5 ACCRoadNo. 9 Duke
— ACC Tournament —
1063–43 win, 24–8BrooklynVirginia
1172–59 loss, 24–9BrooklynVirginia Tech
— NCAA tournament —
174:30 Thursday, TBSFort Worth, TexasMarquette
X — ACC/Big Ten Challenge; Y — Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off; Z — CBS Sports Classic

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