Hubert Davis is the right man for the job at North Carolina

By John Bauman

April 9, 2021

Photo: Gerry Broome / AP

Bubba Cunningham had a choice. 

After Roy Williams retired from his position as basketball coach at North Carolina on April 1, UNC’s athletic director had a few different ways he could have gone with the job.

Cunningham might have went for a big-name hire, convincing someone like Brad Stevens or Mark Few to join the Carolina family. Either of them could lead the basketball program past the Dean Smith and Roy Williams eras into a new and exciting future. 

But the allure of staying within the family was too strong, especially when there was such a great candidate who had been sitting ten feet away from Roy Williams for the last nine seasons on the Tar Heel bench.

On Monday, April 5, Hubert Davis was officially announced as the next basketball coach at the University of North Carolina. Davis played for four seasons in Chapel Hill under Dean Smith from 1988 to 1992 and was an ACC Tournament champion in 1989 and 1991. He also played in the 1991 Final Four with the Tar Heels.

On the court, he was known as an incredible shooter and still holds the career three-point percentage record at UNC, with a mark of 43.5%. That impressive shot got him selected 20th overall by the New York Knicks in the 1992 NBA Draft. He would end up playing 12 seasons in the NBA for six different teams shooting a career 44% from three-point range in the NBA, ranking him second, only behind Steve Kerr.

After 685 games as an NBA player, Davis hung it up and transitioned to television. He was a fixture on ESPN for many seasons, helping as an analyst on College GameDay working alongside other sharp basketball minds like Digger Phelps and Jay Bilas. But he couldn’t stay away from Chapel Hill and accepted an assistant coaching job under Roy Williams in 2012. 

For the next nine seasons as an assistant, Davis helped scout opponents, recruit, and improve his players’ three-point shots. He was also very active in building relationships with his players off the court, connecting with Tar Heels players through his humble personality that comes through in his interviews and strong religious beliefs.

Now, Davis returns to Chapel Hill to lead the North Carolina program as head coach. He will be the first Black head coach for the North Carolina men’s basketball program in the school’s history. Dean Smith, along with his pastor, Robert Seymour, helped integrate Chapel Hill restaurants in 1959 by bringing a Black theology student to The Pines, a local establishment. Smith also helped create change by making basketball player Charlie Scott the first Black scholarship athlete at UNC. Smith would be incredibly proud that Davis is now the head coach at North Carolina.

There are more questions than answers at this stage for what Davis’ tenure will look like. The first question he’ll have to answer is what exactly is his offensive and defensive style. Davis has never been a head coach, other than moonlighting as UNC’s JV coach while an assistant at North Carolina. Coaching UNC’s JV team is one thing, but it will be nothing like the pressure Davis will face under the spotlight as he heads one of college basketball’s blue blood programs.

There’s also the question of the roster. Walker Kessler’s name came up at Davis’ introductory press conference, which was very interesting. Kessler, of course, recently announced his intentions to transfer away from UNC. That was before Roy Williams retired and Hubert Davis announced he wanted to come back to Chapel Hill. If Davis can somehow convince the five-star freshman to come back to North Carolina, that would be huge news and a great sign for next season’s squad.

If Kessler does follow through and transfer away from the Tar Heels, Davis will have to lock down the services of Armando Bacot and Garrison Brooks. Bacot recently announced he would put his name into the NBA Draft and go through the pre-draft process, although he’s left the door open to return to UNC. Brooks has not publicly stated exactly what he will do yet, but he could transfer away (thanks to the NCAA’s flexible transfer rules this offseason) or he could return to North Carolina for his super senior season.

Davis can also add to the roster, either finding another recruit or two to fill out the rotation or by adding someone from the transfer portal. On the recruiting front, UNC already has two four-star commitments in place: guard D’Marco Dunn and forward Dontrez Styles. Both are from the state of NC and have reaffirmed their commitment after Hubert Davis was hired, per 

There aren’t too many players left from the state who are still uncommitted and considering UNC. In 247Sports’s rankings of the Top 2021 Basketball Recruits in North Carolina, only one of the top eight players is uncommitted: Jonas Aidoo. Aidoo, a four-star center who recently backed away from his pledge to play for Marquette, would be an interesting fit next to Armando Bacot, if Bacot decides to return.

With regards to the transfer portal, there are currently over 1,200 players in the portal as of Wednesday afternoon. That number could continue to grow throughout the spring as players take stock of their current situations. Some of the most sought-after players in the portal, like Davidson’s Kellan Grady and Miami’s Chris Lykes, have already committed. Grady is off to Kentucky and Lykes will play for the Arkansas Razorbacks next season. However, expect Davis to move quickly and make a compelling pitch to players who could be a good fit for UNC.

Despite the question marks, one thing is certain: Hubert Davis’ Carolina connections make him a great fit as the new coach at North Carolina. The Carolina family means something to Davis. He wore a pin that said “DES” at his opening press conference on Tuesday– a nod to Dean E. Smith, who passed away in 2015. He will keep the family close, committing to hire assistants that already have a connection to North Carolina.  

Cunningham is betting that Davis’ extensive basketball experience at the college and NBA levels, along with his work ethic, will make up for any perceived deficiencies from Davis’ lack of head coaching experience. There were other candidates within the North Carolina family that UNC’s Athletic Director could have turned to. University of North Carolina alumnus and current UNCG head coach Wes Miller would have offered more head coaching experience, and former Tar Heel and current Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse would have offered ample NBA connections and Power 5 coaching experience.

But Davis was the pick. Now the 50-year-old native from Winston Salem gets a chance to follow in the footsteps of North Carolina legends Dean Smith and Roy Williams. The last time the UNC basketball program tried to find a replacement for an iconic North Carolina coach, it ended with Matt Doherty fracturing the program before Roy Williams put it back together and led the Tar Heels to new heights.

Instead of pushing past the close-knit web of the North Carolina family by hiring someone from the outside, Cunningham decided to find someone who can extend the legacies of Smith and Williams. Only time will tell how Davis does on the court, but his hiring would have made Smith incredibly happy and has already brought tears of joy to Roy Williams’ eyes. 

Hubert Davis, with a “DES” pin on his jacket and Roy Williams’ playbook in his back pocket, is the next man up. 

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