Summer 2024

First-year UNC coach Hubert Davis reaches 20 wins with Christ as 'foundation of who I am'

It’s no easy task to follow a college basketball legend like Roy Williams at a school with six NCAA championships, but first-year North Carolina basketball coach Hubert Davis has acquitted himself well.

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So well, in fact, that he’s already accomplished something the historic UNC basketball program failed to do each of the previous two seasons: reach the 20-win plateau.

With Monday’s 70-63 win over Louisville, the Tar Heels improved their record to 20-8 on the season (12-5 in the ACC). The 2019-20 UNC team won 14 games and the 2020-21 squad, Coach Williams’ last, won 18 (albeit with an abbreviated schedule due to COVID-19).

“It is a big deal to get to 20 wins,” Davis said when asked about the accomplishment in the press conference after the victory over Louisville. “Obviously, it is not our goal and standard and where we want to stop. Over the last three years, we haven’t gotten to 20 wins. … This group has gone through a lot. We have gone through injuries, lineup changes, and we are here.

“Not necessarily focusing on the 20th win but focusing on how much we have had to [persevere] to get to this point. I am really proud of the guys but I am not taking a deep breath, our team is not taking a deep breath, and not relaxing at all.”

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently has North Carolina slated as 10 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, the seventh-to-last at-large team in the field. With the end of the college basketball regular season only a week and a half away and tournament speculation heating up, the Tar Heels will be one of the most-watched “bubble teams” during their final three games.

Many coaches in Davis’ position would crumble under the pressure of being a first-year coach taking over for a Naismith Hall of Famer, leading a powerhouse program in an unfamiliar position on the tournament bubble.

But Davis — who has been an outspoken follower of Christ since his playing days at UNC from 1988-92 and during his 12-year NBA career — has remained grounded in his faith. His identity is in Christ, not the wins and losses, praise or criticism. Davis shared on ESPN’s College Gameday ahead of North Carolina’s matchup against Duke earlier this month how his faith has impacted his coaching.

“Actually yesterday at practice, I gave [the players] a Bible verse Proverbs 4:25. And it says (paraphrased), ‘Look straight ahead, ignore all sideshow distractions,'” he said.

Davis was also asked about his faith during a press conference introducing him as the new coach of the Tar Heels in April.

“[Faith is] the most important thing to me,” he said. “My faith and foundation is firmly in my relationship with Jesus. It just is. And my mother was a Christian and she begged me to go to church growing up. And I didn’t want to go. I wasn’t interested in it. My mom used to always say that Jesus had a plan for me, plans for hope and a future, plans not to harm you, plans to prosper you Jeremiah 29:11. And at the time growing up, I didn’t understand it and I didn’t listen to it.”

Davis said he grew a tremendous hatred toward God after his mother passed away in high school. His animosity continued into his first two years at UNC. He couldn’t reconcile what his mom had told him with the pain of her loss.

“One of the things that [legendary Tar Heels coach Dean] Smith used to do was make all the freshmen go to church,” Davis continued. “And as I went to church, only because Coach Smith and (assistant) Coach Guthridge encouraged me to go to church, I started to understand what my mom was talking about. I started to understand the sacrifice that Jesus made for me and how much He loves me, and two days before my junior year of college, I became a Christian.

“Instead of being upset that Jesus has taken away the most beautiful person in my life in my mom, I’m thankful every day that He gave me the best that I could ever have for 16 years. … My faith in Christ is the foundation of who I am. When I say that I will walk this path in my own shoes and my personality, my own shoes and my personality is my faith.”

Davis first joined the Tar Heel coaching staff as an assistant before the 2012-13 season.

“The reason why I made this decision [to return to North Carolina as an assistant], No. 1, is this is where I felt like Christ wanted me and my family to go,” Davis said on the “UNPACKIN’ it” podcast in 2014. “Wherever He wants us to go, I’m following Him. I’m not going any other direction. … This is not a job, it feels like a mission field, a ministry opportunity.”

He continued later, “I’m here to serve and shed light on and be an example for Christ.”

Since his return, Davis has been intentional about mentoring the players in their faith and organizing a team Bible study.

“The great thing about it is I facilitate it but the guys lead it,” Davis told Sports Spectrum in 2018. “A different player each week leads the Bible study. … It’s awesome. I enjoy being a part of it and being there watching each one of them grow.”

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