Inside Carolina Magazine
INTERVIEW: J.B. Cissell
PHOTOS: Jim Hawkins/Hugh Morton/UNC Ath. Comm.
ubert Davis, a former Tar Heel guard who played in 137 games from 1988-92, is serving in his second season as an assistant coach on the North Carolina basketball staff. His duties include bench coaching, scouting, and recruiting. He is also serving in his first season as head coach of the UNC junior varsity team after serving as an assistant to C.B. McGrath in 2012-13.
Prior to joining the Carolina staff in 2012, the Burke, Va. native worked for ESPN for seven years as a basketball analyst and co-host of College GameDay.
Davis accumulated a record of 102-37 as a player at UNC during which time the Tar Heels won the 1989 and 1991 Atlantic Coast Conference Tournaments and played in the 1991 Final Four. During his career he scored 1,615 points, an average of 11.8 per game, and holds the UNC record for three-point percentage at .435 (197-453).
As a senior Davis averaged 21.4 points per game and earned second-team All-ACC honors. On the way, he made a Tar Heel record of eight three-pointers at Florida State and scored a career-high 35 points at Duke.
The New York Knicks selected Davis with the 20th pick in the first round of the 1992 NBA Draft. During his 12 seasons as an NBA player he scored 5,583 points, averaging 8.2 per game, and he ranks third in NBA history in three-point percentage at .441.
“Hubert’s just a fantastic individual,” Roy Williams says. “First and foremost, I’ve never been around a guy that—he has a hard time saying anything negative about anything and anybody. Even after (the UAB) game, he wasn’t nearly as fired up as I was, but he was more fired up than I’d ever seen him, let’s put it that way. Just a great, great guy. A guy that everybody loves. … You can’t be a better ambassador for North Carolina basketball than he is.
“(His growing comfort level) is very noticeable (in his second season on the coaching staff) and it’s so much more noticeable on the recruiting trail—he’s strong with his opinion and he’s doing things on his own instead of waiting for me or Steve or Joe to suggest something to him. He’s taking great initiative (and is) doing more on the court. Scouting reports—when he’s got scouting he’s as fired up as he can be on that part. He’s much more comfortable.
“He’s got some projects on our team that he’s trying to help with their shooting … Hubert just works so hard with those guys and their shots. He’s a fantastic coach and he’s going to be even better.”
Walk me through the series of events that led you to take the assistant coaching position at UNC.
I was just finishing my seventh year at ESPN so it was the last year of my contract, and I was in the beginning stages of re-negotiating my contract to go back with them. I had every intention of going back with ESPN because I loved the seven years that I had worked for them. I enjoyed the relationships, I enjoyed the job.
We were in New Orleans, that was the Final Four, so we got back. The six months, seven months that I’m on with ESPN was hectic. I was gone five days a week. The five or six months we have off is ‘off-off’. I was really looking forward to spending uninterrupted time with my family.
My wife and I had talked extensively about the new contract I was going to sign with ESPN and how there would be some major changes, and the major changes were that I needed to get a schedule that I felt more comfortable with and would fit my family more. I just hated it and I couldn’t take it even though I had those six months off. The six months that I was on—you can’t get that back, and I didn’t like traveling so much and missing my son’s games, my children’s games and events and field trips.
I was going to talk to them about just trying to find a different schedule because the one that I had, even though I loved my work, it just didn’t work. I came back and was having breakfast at my favorite breakfast place, Gugelhupf, right off of 15-501 in Durham, really close to our kids’ school. Coach Williams’s secretary sent me a text and an e-mail saying, ‘Do you have time to stop by? Coach wants to speak with you.’ So I told them I was at breakfast and said after that I would stop by.
So I called my wife to let her know Coach Williams wanted me to stop by the office and then I would be home. When I stopped in and went into his office, I thought that he was going to ask me if I could change the dates of my Christian basketball camp that I’ve had for 15 years at the Smith Center. So that was the only thing that was on my mind.
“I have been on this campus since I was four … I went to camp here nine years, I went to school here, I bought my first house here, I got married here.”
I went into his office and he said, ‘I’ve got a really big favor to ask.’ I said, ‘That’s fine, Coach, whatever you need—just let me know.’ He said, ‘No, I need a really big favor,’ and I was like, ‘Fine, Coach.’ He said, ‘I want you to join the staff as an assistant coach.’ I just blacked out from there—I don’t know what actually happened from that point. I looked at him like, ‘What did you just say?’ and said, ‘Why are you asking me that?’ He said, ‘I just want you to be a part of this staff.’ I’ve been in Chapel Hill for seven years, and he’s always had me as somebody that he thought he would like to have on his staff. He said, ‘I don’t know if you are interested in it, and don’t know what your contract is with ESPN, but I want you to be an assistant coach. I don’t remember anything else that he said except, ‘Just go home and talk about it.’
I went home and walked into the house with a really weird look on my face, just flushed out. I sat down at the kitchen table, my wife came in and said, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ I just started crying, and she said, ‘What’s going on?’ I told her, and then she started crying. We sat there at the kitchen table for about an hour and a half just crying and looking at each other until we had to pick up our kids from school because we just couldn’t believe what was happening. The crying was that we were overwhelmed for a number of reasons. For one, we were thankful, we were honored, and we just couldn’t believe that this was happening to us.
Carolina has been a part of my life—case closed. I have been on this campus since I was four, hanging out with Uncle Walt(er Davis). I went to camp here nine years, I went to school here, I bought my first house here, I got married here. This is where we decided, after I retired, to raise our family here. There is a love for this university, this program, this community that has been a part of my entire life. To be able to come back to a program that has been my life, and to come and be a part of it again, from a different view was overwhelming.
How are you different this year as a coach than during your first year?
I feel more comfortable and I know the guys. Spending a year with the guys and now knowing them as kids, as people, there is just familiarity because more is known in terms of my responsibilities, plus just being around the guys and the coaches. There is a huge difference between this year and last year in terms of how comfortable I am. Not that I was uncomfortable last year. Last year was so awesome, but everything was so new and unfamiliar. I had never been a coach before.
How do you think the players would say you are different this year in the way you coach them?
I think they would say that I’m more confident and more vocal—I’m more assertive. They would say I’m more assertive this year, as opposed to last year. And that is just spending time with them and becoming more familiar every day. Last year was just unbelievable. So many times I was sitting on the bench and just could not believe that I was on the bench. Just remembering Coach Smith and Coach Guthridge, Coach Ford and Coach Hanners. It was pretty cool.
Are you able to draw from your experiences as a player, both in college and professionally, to help you as a coach?
I am. So many things have helped me be the best coach I can be. I think it means something that I was here. When I am talking to the players, I was here. I went to school here, I played here, I know exactly what they are going through. I’ve been there, I’ve gone down that road. Most of our guys have aspirations of going to the next level. I’ve been there, I was there for 12 years. Those experiences, along with my time at ESPN, having a chance to go to all these programs around the country, going to their practices and shootarounds, hanging out with their coaches and players. The experience I got from seeing different programs has been huge in terms of helping me be the best coach I can be. I just want to be the best assistant coach I can be for Coach Williams and this university, and that is it.
What about your experience as an analyst studying players and teams as preparation for breaking down the action—does any of that transfer to coaching?
It does. The research—a lot of people think that ESPN is all scripted, but it’s not. You have to do all your own research, you have to do everything. That type of preparation—so when I got on TV I knew what I was talking about—helped to prepare me for being a coach: doing scouting reports, preparing for practice, things to work on individually with the players. It was overall preparation.
“The competitive fire that I have now is no different than when I played.”
What are your responsibilities as an assistant coach in practice and on game days?
Everything. Coach Williams does a great job of allowing us to coach and allowing us to grow. He puts us in different spots for us to continue to grow as a coach. This year I’m (head) coach of the JV team. How many programs around the country have a junior varsity program where now I am the head coach and I am in a position to draw up practice plans, pick a team, put together a schedule, playing rotation? That experience is unbelievable. There is not one thing that all of us don’t get a chance to do in terms of learning and growing as a coach so that anything that Coach needs, we are able to do it.
Recruiting coverage wasn’t the same in your high school days as it is now, but there were still players who were ranked nationally. You arrived at UNC without a lot of national accolades, and if I recall correctly not many people gave you much of a chance to play in the ACC, but you showed that you belonged on that level. What made you decide to go where you might not play, and what was the secret to your success?
Well, one, AAU wasn’t big then but camps were, and I just never went to a lot of those All-American camps. The only camp I went to prior to my senior year was Carolina Basketball Camp. Then, right before my senior year I went to Five-Star (Camp), so I wasn’t heavily recruited at all, but I had always wanted to go to Carolina. I felt like I was good enough to be a part of the program. I wanted to go to school here, and I wanted to be a part of the program. If that meant sitting the bench all four years, that’s fine. If it meant starting all four years, that was fine, but I wanted to be coached by Coach Smith and Coach Guthridge, I wanted to go to school here and get a degree from here.
All I asked Coach Smith for was an opportunity, and he was very hesitant in offering me a scholarship because we were family friends and he really felt like the level here at Carolina was just too much for me in terms of getting playing time. He thought it would be very difficult for me to get the playing time that he knew that I wanted, and he advised me to go to a lower Division I school. I remember when he came to my house and visited, I said, ‘Can you just give me a chance?’ You may be right and that’s fine, but we won’t know unless you give me an opportunity.’
I told him I wanted to go to school here, first, but I just wanted to be a part of the program. He called me back two days later and was like, ‘I’m going to give you that chance,’ and that is all I wanted. I never set goals to average ‘this,’ or ‘I want to start by a certain time.’ Never. My goals have been to see just how good I could get, and I felt that I was good enough to be a part of the team. If that meant being a practice player, fine. If that meant playing, fine, but I felt like I was good enough to be on the team. So I just continued to work hard, but the reason that I was able to come here was 100 percent because of Coach Smith. He gave me the opportunity.
One of the most prominent skills you showed as a player, both in college and in the NBA, was the ability to knock down three-pointers. What made you successful in that regard, and is that a skill you can impart to others through coaching?
People always ask me that. I never practiced or considered myself a three-point shooter. I just never did. I practiced it, but I made four three-pointers my entire high school career—that’s it. It was never in my thinking. I don’t know the stats, but you may want to check. I guarantee you that at any point—maybe at Carolina my senior year or junior year—I know for NBA, I bet you that I’m not even close to the most three-point attempts on my team. That was just never a part, so in terms of becoming a three-point shooter, I guess people kind of categorize me because I make them, but that’s not something I thought about—running to the three. I just played. If I was open from three I shot it.
“There is a huge difference between this year and last year in terms of how comfortable I am.”
Do players come to you for shooting advice? You are third all-time in percentage in the NBA, and that is the cream of the crop, so you are standing as the best of the best, at least in that one particular skill. What advice do you give them?
They don’t come to me for that, but if they asked how to become a better three-point shooter I would tell them to shoot from three-point range a lot and continue to practice. There is no secret. People ask, ‘How do you become a great three-point shooter?’ Well, first you have to have the strength to be able to shoot that far out, and then you have to practice it—a lot. Then when you practice a lot, you have to get back up and practice it even more.
I always tell the guys that to become a consistently good shooter, number one, you have to have the right form. Number two, you have to put in the time, and number three is shot selection. If you are shooting contested shots and tough shots, it is not going to go in. So if you are not a consistent shooter, one of those three is not working. You have to figure out which one, two, or all three are not working. If you are not a consistent shooter, it is because of (at least) one of those three. To be a good three-point shooter you have to have good form, put the time in, and then take open threes. And you have to work hard to get the open threes.
You have been a part of what some people call the greatest rivalry in college sports—UNC-Duke basketball games. Compare what it is like as a player and as a coach.
In terms of the competitive fire there is no difference. The only thing between a player and a coach is I can’t play. That’s it. The competitive fire that I have now is no different than when I played. The only difference is that I’m 20 years older and can’t play anymore. But in terms of mental preparation and competitiveness, that is still the same. There is nothing different.