By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — Ever since Carolina came up short in the national championship game against Kansas, RJ Davis has been motivated to get back to that point and take that next step to a title.
He’s ensured that the memory of that April evening at the Superdome in New Orleans stays fresh. He’s given himself numerous reminders by frequently rewatching the game.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve watched it because of how hungry I am to get back there, and I want a different outcome this year,” said Davis, who watches it and resolves to elevate his game.
He says that he is entering his junior season as a different player.
“More confident. More vocal. More of a leader this year,” he said. “I felt like I just know how we got there and what it takes to get right back, helping these guys. That makes me who I am this year just to be that leader.”
The catalyst for that mentality in the 6–0 guard is Coach Hubert Davis, who seems to roll out of bed with the massive intensity that his players can’t help but pick up on.
“He’s always gonna be the same person,” RJ Davis said of his head coach. “He’s going to come in passionate, high energy, with the mindset, that dog mentality. It’s been starting since the summer. He’s instilled that into us throughout the summer.”
The team got plenty of praise in the offseason, but he says they can’t be satisfied and must remember the type of effort it took to get to New Orleans last season.
“He’s always telling us to block out the side distractions and just focus on what’s ahead of us,” RJ Davis said. “And we’ve been doing that since the summer, going into preseason. So I think we’re at a really good spot right now, but there’s always room for improvement.”
The best approach and intensity wouldn’t get the job done without talent, and the Tar Heels have that along with experience, in fellow starters Caleb Love, Leaky Black and Armando Bacot back.
“I feel like this year’s team is something special, just about how many pieces we have. Everyone that’s able to contribute in all the different ways,” RJ Davis said, including Northwestern transfer Pete Nance. “Pete just got here, but you know, as soon as he stepped into campus, it felt like he’s been here for a while.”
RJ Davis led his White team to a 61–47 win with 17 points in a 30-minute, running-clock scrimmage at Friday night’s Live Action With Carolina Basketball. But his team had a significant advantage since it also included Black, Nance and Bacot on his team.
Coach Davis wasn’t too concerned with how the teams were divided for the scrimmage other than that he wanted Bacot and Nance to play together.
“One of the things that that I tried to do in practice is that Pete and Armando have been playing a lot together,” Coach Davis said. “So, I think it’s important for them to develop some chemistry out there on the floor.
“Armando, his four years here, has played with four different power forwards,” said Davis, who played Brady Manek at the four spot last season. “So, the more time that he’s on the floor with Pete figuring out his strengths and weaknesses and finding that chemistry together, I think, is really important.”
Coach Davis said his approach hasn’t changed even with the success the Tar Heels enjoyed in the second half of last season.
“The goals last year are the same as this year. It’s the same every year,” Coach Davis said. “There are a number of goals and things that we want to achieve, but there’s always — at North Carolina, since I’ve been here, since I was assistant coach, now as a head coach — consistently the same every year. We’ve got to commit ourselves to becoming the best that we can be. Every day commit ourselves in practice. We’re locked in; we’re ready to go. And it’s been an exciting two weeks of practice, but it’s been a real good offseason in terms of individual work and putting this year’s team together.”
Tar Heels fans can’t wait to see how the season unfolds.
|28||Friday||W, 101–40||Johnson C. Smith||Home||Exhibition|
|11||Friday||W, 102–86||College of Charleston||Home||2–0|
|20||Sunday||W, 80–64||James Madison||Home||4–0|
|Phil Knight Invitational|
|24||Thursday||W, 89–81||First round: Portland||Portland||5–0|
|27||Sunday||L, 103–101, |
No. 18 Alabama
|ACC/Big Ten Challenge|
|30||Wednesday||9:15||No. 11 Indiana||Bloomington, Ind.||ESPN|
|4||Sunday||3 p.m.||Virginia Tech||Blacksburg, Va.||ACCN|
|13||Tuesday||7 p.m.||The Citadel||Home||ESPN2|
|CBS Sports Classic|
|17||Saturday||3 p.m.||Ohio State||New York||CBS|
|4||Wednesday||9 p.m.||Wake Forest||Home||ACCN|
|7||Saturday||11:30 a.m.||Notre Dame||Home||ESPN2|
|10||Tuesday||9 p.m.||No. 5 Virginia||Charlottesville||ESPN or ESPN2|
|14||Saturday||2 p.m.||Louisville||Louisville, Ky.||ESPN|
|17||Tuesday||7 p.m.||Boston College||Home||RSN|
|21||Saturday||5 p.m.||N.C. State||Home||ACCN|
|24||Tuesday||9 p.m.||Syracuse||Syracuse, N.Y.||ESPN|
|4||Saturday||6:30||No. 8 Duke||Durham||ESPN|
|7||Tuesday||7 p.m.||Wake Forest||Winston-Salem||ESPN or ESPN2|
|11||Saturday||2 p.m.||Clemson||Home||ESPN or ESPN2|
|19||Sunday||1 p.m.||N.C. State||Raleigh||ESPN|
|22||Wednesday||9 p.m.||Notre Dame||South Bend, Ind.||ESPN or ESPN2|
|25||Saturday||6 or 8||No. 5 Virginia||Home||ESPN|
|27||Monday||7 p.m.||Florida State||Tallahassee, Fla.||ESPN|
|4||Saturday||6 or 6:30||No. 8 Duke||Home||ESPN|
Photo via @UNC_Basketball