By R.L. Bynum
NEW ORLEANS — There have been many positives for first-year head coach Hubert Davis as Carolina turned its season around and went from the bubble to the Final Four.
One big one is that he can be a basketball coach, rather than a sports psychologist trying to figure out how to be an effort coach. His days of preaching “energy, effort and toughness” are over because his players are bringing all three to every game.
“I felt like at the beginning of the year the thing that I had to coach the most was effort and toughness,” said Davis during a Final Four press conference Thursday at the Superdome. “I haven’t had to do that the last two months at all.”
Davis is happy to talk about what his players have brought in abundance while winning 10 of their last 11 games: energy and emotion.
“I love emotions, and that’s one of the things that I felt like was missing at the beginning of the year,” Davis said. “There was no emotion. And I’ve said that emotions not only are good, they’re necessary. That means you care.”
The players heard many familiar motivational lines from Davis early in the season when the team was working through rough patches and enduring blowout losses. That had some impatient fans questioning the first-year coach, who kept pressing the same points.
Eventually, it all came together for the Tar Heels.
“At the beginning of the year, he was very repetitive on certain things,” graduate transfer Brady Manek said. “And you don’t really know where he’s going with that. But, the last month, month and a half, we’ve really bought into what he’s been saying. And it’s all been making sense. We all have to play together. We’ve all got to play smart. We’ve all got to bring our toughness to every game. So he’s been doing it for a reason the whole time.”
Manek wasn’t the only player who wondered early in the season about some of Davis’ frequently repeated lines, including “beejeebies” references.
“At first, I thought it was kind of goofy,” Leaky Black said. “Hearing bejeebies for the first time, it was kind of weird. But right now we don’t really pay too much attention to it. We pretty much get the message. And that’s pretty much it.”
Davis’ message may have shifted in the last month but it’s still been effective.
“His passion for the school, for the game of basketball, it’s unmatched,” Manek said. “He brings it every day. He brings it to every practice, every shootaround, every game. He gets you motivated and he can get you ready to go.”
The cliché about a coach’s words making you want to go through a brick wall has been repeated by players this season. Thursday, it was Black.
“He really just is hell of a motivator,” Black said. “He’ll get you pumped up and ready to run through a brick wall for him. He’s not really an X and O’s kind of guy. He’s a motivator. That’s my biggest thing with him.”
The players clearly love and respect Davis and what he’s done to put Carolina basketball back in its rightful place to be considered an elite program. Junior Armando Bacot played two seasons for Coach Roy Williams and is well aware of the legendary achievements of Coach Dean Smith and sees no dropoff.
“I think he could probably go down as one of the greatest coaches of all time,” Bacot said. “Him being like an extension of Coach Smith and Coach Williams, how he revolutionizes Carolina basketball as a whole, I think is something really good to look forward to.”
More emotions are ahead Saturday when UNC faces rival Duke in the second national semifinal. No doubt, Davis will come up with the right words that will send the Tar Heels out onto the court ready to battle.
At Superdome, New Orleans
Saturday’s national semifinals
No. 2 Villanova (30–7) vs. No. 1 Kansas (32–6), 6:09, TBS
No. 2 Duke (32–6) vs. No. 8 North Carolina (28–9), 40 minutes after first semifinal, TBS
Semifinal winners, 9:20, TBS
Photo via @UNC_Basketball