When Roy Williams announced his retirement with an hour-long farewell news conference last week, the number of individuals he named and thanked with connections to North Carolina basketball were too plentiful to count.
He cited the contributions of former players, current players, current and former staffers, secretaries, administrators and others who supported and inspired him during his 18 years as the program’s head coach.
At one point, though, he narrowed the list down to the names of just two people who could perhaps rival his level of affinity for the University of North Carolina. Those two were UNC’s director of player development Eric Hoots and Williams’ ninth-year assistant Hubert Davis.
“I think they’re the only two people that can love this university as much as I do,” Williams said of Davis and Hoots.
Less than a week later, Davis, and his affection for the powder blue and all it represents in college basketball is doubtlessly a primary factor in why he landed the job.
However, Davis will also bring a unique perspective to the position gleaned through an unorthodox career to this point. He’s just not a “Carolina guy.” He’s also the veteran of a long NBA career and a post-playing gig that took him around the country to get an inside look at some of the sport’s top programs.
Here is a look at Davis’ journey to one of college basketball’s most prestigious jobs.
Tar Heel family ties
Davis is considered a quintessential “Carolina family” hire because of his time as a player and assistant with the program. However, his inclusion in the UNC tree predates his own commitment to play for legendary coach Dean Smith as a prospect in the Class of 1988.
His uncle, Walter Davis, played for the Tar Heels from 1973 to 1977 and was the second-leading scorer on the 1976-77 team that reached the national championship game. Walter Davis averaged 15.7 points over his four year career playing for Smith, and that familial tie surely played a role in where the younger Davis decided to play college basketball.
“I wasn’t a high school McDonald’s All-American,” Hubert Davis said in a 2019 interview with the North Carolina Study Center. “He (Smith) gave me an opportunity, a chance to come here and compete. That’s generosity.”
Though Williams left his post as a UNC assistant to coach Kansas just before Davis arrived on campus, he did help recruit Davis at UNC and coached him in the World University Games in 1991.
A 3-point marksman
A 6-foot-6 forward, Walter Davis played at UNC before the advent of the 3-point line in the 1986-87 season and was never known as an outside shooter during a long NBA career that saw him named an All-Star six times.
However, his nephew thrived beyond the arc. Despite the 3-point shot’s relatively new presence in the college game, Hubert Davis thrived on it during his career with the Tar Heels from 1988 to 1992. The 6-5 guard made 149-of-329 attempts from 3-point range (45.3%) while playing a starring role for the Tar Heels as a junior and senior.
Davis parlayed the skill into a 12-year NBA career, and he retired in 2004 with a career 44.1% 3-point shooting mark. That mark still stands as No. 2 all-time behind Steve Kerr and ahead of active players like Seth Curry and Joe Harris.
The irony, of course, is that North Carolina ranked 268th nationally in 3-point shooting percentage this season at 31.8% and 313th last season at 30.4%. If the Tar Heels are going to return to competing for titles, they could use some of the outside shooting that Davis displayed during his playing career.
Spent time on both sides of the camera
Davis spent seven years after his playing career as analyst with ESPN. It was the type of gig that many former players and coaches stick in for so long that it becomes a larger part of their public persona than their increasingly distant on-court accomplishments.
However, when current Stanford coach Jerod Haase left the UNC staff for the UAB head coaching job in 2012, it created a vacancy for Williams to fill.
“For the last four or five years Hubert has always been on my mind in case a spot did come open,” Williams said at the time. “I didn’t know if I could get him to come back, but I knew I wanted him to be the first option. Coaching is about teaching, relationships and passion and I feel Hubert is the perfect choice. Our student-athletes will benefit greatly from what he adds to our staff.”
He never said it, but it seemed obvious that there was only one school that could have swayed Davis to leave behind his rising stardom in television.
“I loved being a part of college basketball during my time at ESPN by attending practices and games and developing relationships with players and coaches,” Davis said. “Now I will have the opportunity to do this on a more personal level at a university and with a basketball program that I have loved my entire life.”
Davis joins a growing list of coaches with strong NBA playing track records to assume the head coaching position at colleges where they once starred. Juwan Howard has quickly been successful in two seasons at Michigan, and Indiana recently hired a former Hoosiers star in Mike Woodson as coach. Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing and Memphis’ Penny Hardaway have also taken on the challenge of coaching their former schools after long NBA careers.
Ewing and Howard were each NBA assistant before taking a college head job, and Woodson is a former NBA assistant and former head coach of two NBA franchises. Where Davis differs is in his nine years of collegiate coaching experience.
He won’t need to study film to catch up to speed on what North Carolina’s ACC rivals are doing on the court, and he won’t need to take a crash course in how to avoid breaking NCAA rules. The ever-important skill of recruiting should also be second nature to Davis as this point as he enters his 10th season in college basketball.
Davis served as the lead recruiter on current UNC players such as R.J. Davis and Armando Bacot. Time will tell whether his familiarity with UNC’s current players keeps the current roster together. But at the very least, Davis’ relationships in the recruiting world and experience landing coveted prospects sets him apart from some other former NBA players who may have faced steeper learning curves in the cutthroat world of college basketball recruiting.
He’s also gotten some on-court experience as the coach of UNC’s junior varsity team, which means the 2021-22 season won’t be the first time he’s called all the shots for a team wearing his beloved powder blue.
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